Fungal Nails (Onychomycosis)

Fungal infection of the nail, or onychomycosis, is often ignored because the infection can be present for years at a time without causing any pain. The disease is characterized by a progressive change in a toenail’s color or quality, which is often considered ugly and embarrassing.

In reality, the condition is an infection located underneath the surface of the nail caused by fungi. When the tiny organisms take hold, the nail often becomes darker in color and foul smelling. Debris may collect beneath the nail plate, white marks frequently appear on the nail plate, and the infection is capable of spreading to other toenails, the skin, or even the fingernails. If ignored, the infection can worsen, spread, and possibly impair one’s ability to work or even walk. This happens because the resulting thicker nails are hard to trim and make walking painful when wearing shoes. Onychomycosis can also be accompanied by a secondary bacterial or yeast infection in or around the nail plate area.

Because it is difficult to avoid contact with microscopic organisms like fungi, the toenails are especially vulnerable around damp areas where people are likely to be walking barefoot, such as swimming pools, showers, and locker rooms, for example. Injury to the nail bed may increase susceptibility to all types of infection, including fungal infection. Those who suffer from chronic diseases, such as diabetes, circulatory problems, or immune-deficiency conditions, are especially prone to fungal nails. Other contributing factors may be a history of execessive perspiration and athlete’s foot.


  • Proper daily hygiene and regular inspection of the feet and toes are the first lines of defense against onychomycosis (fungal nails).
  • Washing the feet with a mild soap and water, then drying thoroughly, is the best way to prevent a fungal infection.
  • Clean, dry feet resist disease.
  • In public areas, shower shoes should be worn when possible.
  • Shoes, hosiery, or socks should be changed more than once a day.
  • Disinfect instruments used to cut toe nails.
  • Toenails should be clipped straight across and kept at the proper length so that the nail does not extend beyond the tip of the toe.
  • Disinfect all home pedicure tools.
  • Always wear shoes that fit well and are made of materials that breathe.
  • Avoid wearing excessively tight hosiery, which promotes foot moisture.
  • Socks made of synthetic fiber tend to keep away moisture faster than cotton or wool socks do.
  • You should sterilize shoes with the Steri Shoe sanitizer or spray shoes with anti-fungal spray.
  • Don’t apply nail polish to toe nails which are suspected to be infected, if they are red, swollen, or discolored, for example.

Treatment of Fungal Nails

Fungal nail treatments may vary, depending on the nature and severity of the infection. A daily routine of cleansing over a period of time (many months) may temporarily suppress mild infections. White markings that appear on the surface of the nail can be filed off by a podiatrist, followed by the application of an over-the-counter antifungal liquid or ointment. However, even the best over-the-counter treatments may not prevent a fungal infection from returning.

A podiatric physician can detect a fungal infection early, culture the nail, determine the cause, and form a suitable treatment plan of action, which may include prescribing oral or topical medication, and debridement (the removal of diseased nail matter and debris) of an infected nail.

The most effective form of treatment for nail fungus is a nail laser treatment. The laser treatment is performed in your podiatrist physician’s office and all ten toenails are treated. This type of treatment requires no anesthesia, has no side effects, and is painless. A single, 30 minute laser treatment is all that is required to kill fungus living in the toe nails.

Oral anti-fungals are another form of fungal nail treatment. These oral medications offer a treatment regimen of approximately three months and improved effectiveness. Podiatrists may also prescribe a topical treatment for onychomycosis, which can be an effective treatment modality for infected toe nails.

In some cases, surgical treatment could be required. Temporary removal of the infected nail can be performed to permit direct application of a topical antifungal. Permanent removal of a chronically painful nail that has not responded to any other treatment enables the fungal infection to be curable and prevents the return of a deformed nail.

Trying to solve the fungal infection without the qualified help of a podiatrist can lead to more problems. With new technical advances in combination with simple preventive measures, the treatment of this lightly regarded health problem can often be successful.