Podiatrist Treating Toenail Fungus on a PatientYou don't know how you got them, but you'd like nothing more than to get rid of them. Thick, yellow toenails that break apart easily at the edges are a sign that you have fungi growing underneath the nail. The same fungus that causes athlete's foot when it infects the areas between your toes and on the bottoms of your feet can be a nuisance at best and painful at worst when it infects the nail bed. Called onychomycosis, nail fungus is hard to get rid of on your own. Learn more about this stubborn condition and how our team of podiatrists and medical assistants can help you.

How Did You Get Toenail Fungus?

Foot fungus doesn't discriminate. It needs a host and, if you provide the opportunity, it will choose you. Common, everyday activities can expose you to foot fungus, and the more active and fit you are, the higher your risk may be. Onychomycosis happens to the best of us, so there's certainly no shame in seeking help for the condition. You likely picked up the fungus in one of the following ways:

  • Going barefoot. Just like athlete's foot, you can pick up onychomycosis from public places like pool decks, locker rooms, showers, and yoga studios. If you don't wear flip-flops, waterproof shoes, or socks in these areas, you could become infected.
  • Wearing sweaty shoes and socks. While wearing shoes and socks is a good way to protect your feet, if you keep sweaty footwear on, you could be providing the perfect environment for fungi to grow. Not changing socks after a workout or failing to air out gym shoes could have been the culprit.
  • Sharing footwear & tools. Foot fungus can live on footcare tools like files, clippers, and pumice stones and in towels, shoes, and socks, so if you regularly share these items with roommates or family members, you might have picked up a fungal infection from them.
  • Going to a sketchy spa. There has been a lot of good publicity recently about ensuring the safety of your spa. Getting a pedicure from a salon that does not sterilize their equipment, shares polish bottles, doesn't properly clean their foot baths, or cuts your cuticles too short puts you at risk for onychomycosis.
  • Not clipping your toenails properly. Very short toenails, especially when the corners are rounded off, can lead to an ingrown toenail and an entrance point for fungus. On the other hand (or foot), excessively long toenails can lift up against the end of your shoe and allow fungus in as well. 
  • Ignoring early signs. You might have noticed white spots on your toenails or wondered why your nails were getting thick and yellow but ignored the problem for weeks or months. This is understandable, as most people don't think toenails can cause serious problems. However, the longer you wait to get treatment, the harder it's going to be to get rid of toenail fungus.

It's important to realize that fungal toenails do not get better on their own, and over-the-counter and home treatments are almost never effective. This is an infection that needs medical treatment if there is any hope of a cure. You might think you are ok with ugly, brittle nails, but keep in mind that the fungus can spread to the rest of your feet and to family members. If you have compromised circulation due to diabetes or an immune disorder, you could suffer even more severe complications from fungal nails. Fortunately, there is help.

Treatment for Fungal Toenails

One of the reasons onychomycosis is so difficult to treat is that the nail itself provides a protective barrier for the fungus—and it even provides nutrition! Creams that treat athlete's foot are usually not effective on fungal toenails because it's impossible to get the medicine under the nail. However, we offer several treatment options to our fungal toenail patients:

  • Oral antifungal medications. When topical antifungal creams don't work, we may try a course of oral medication. Taken over a 6- or 12-week period, this treatment can be effective but can also cause side effects such as skin rashes and liver damage. We monitor our patients on oral antifungals very carefully.
  • Laser treatment. Laser therapy can effectively pass through the nail and kill fungus under the nail without damaging the skin. Depending on how advanced the infection is and how many toes are infected, you can expect to visit our office monthly for several months.
  • Surgery. In extreme cases that don't respond to other treatments, we might decide to remove the nail in order to apply topical medications and allow the nail bed to heal. Once the fungus is destroyed, the nail should grow back, but it can take up to 18 months.

There is no way to reverse the damage that has already been done to your nails, so even after the fungus is killed off, you will have to wait until the warped, damaged nail has grown out completely. This can take several months, depending on how fast your nails grow.

The bottom line is that fungal nails take time to treat, so there's no better time to get started than right now!

Call Omaha Foot & Ankle Specialists for Help

Since 1991, our premier podiatry practice has helped patients find a solution to their unsightly fungal toenails. You want your feet to look and feel their best. Our highly skilled podiatrists, Dr. Michael Cullen and Dr. Nathan Penney, provide compassionate and comprehensive care for all manner of foot and ankle issues, from fungal toenails to ankle replacements and everything in between. Most importantly, we provide the information, education, and support you need to feel confident in your care. Contact our office as soon as you notice something off about your toenails. The sooner we get started treating the infection, the faster and more complete your recovery will be.