Toenail fungal infections are caused by tiny micro-organisms called dermatophytes that enter the nail bed through very small openings in the skin, usually right along the edge of the nail. Blisters, ingrown toenails, and tiny cuts or scrapes are common entry points for dermatophytes, and skin that’s become very soft and pliable from soaking for a long time in water can also make it easier for infections to occur. Toenail fungal infections are very contagious, and they’re commonly contracted by walking on warm, damp surfaces like locker room floors, public showers, or decking surrounding pools or hot tubs. The fungus can also be spread from one person to another by sharing shoes worn by someone who has a toenail fungal infection. People with compromised immune systems or circulatory problems and those with diabetes are more likely to contract toenail fungal infections than others.
In their very early stages, toenail fungal infections often cause very few noticeable symptoms. But once the fungus begins to grow, it can cause symptoms like:
Most toenail fungal infections can be easily diagnosed with a visual exam and a review of the patient’s symptoms, but in a few cases, a biopsy (a small sample of tissue) may be taken to rule out some types of cancer. Once a fungal infection is confirmed, treatment can include oral medications to treat the infections systemically or topical medications to target the infected area directly. Fungal infections can be very stubborn, and in some cases, the nail will need to be removed to enable the medicine to penetrate the deeper layers of tissue. Laser treatment can also be used in some cases. Once the initial treatment is underway, it’s very important to use medication as directed and to visit the office for all follow-up appointments so treatment stays on track.
At NOVA Foot and Ankle in Springfield and Herndon, Virginia we offer Fungal Laser toenail treatment used for both mild and severe cases of fungal toenail infection. Laser treatments have proven to be more effective than topical medications and can clear the infection without harming healing tissue. The light from the laser is emitted on a specific wavelength which passes into the skin and destroys the infection. The healthy tissue is not affected by the same wavelength. This is because the pigment in the fungi absorbs the light. The sessions are about 20 minutes long and some patients may require more than one application. Results should be seen as the nail grows and reveals healthy tissue.
Because fungal infections are contagious, it’s important not to share footwear and to avoid going barefoot in public areas. Change out of sweaty shoes and socks as soon as possible, and bathe feet often. Using a spray or powder designed to kill fungus can also help.