Do You Suffer From Toenail Fungus? Two New Treatments That Might Help

Toenail fungus is not only unsightly -- say goodbye to pretty pedicures or wearing sandals -- but it can cause itching and discomfort. As many as 14 percent of people in the U.S. have fungal infections on their feet, usually without symptoms. But it can spread to other areas of your feet and cause you pain when walking or wearing shoes.

Foot fungus can also cause recurring infections if you're older, smoke or have diabetes because circulation in your feet is more restricted. Your best bet is to eradicate it completely, but that's not as easy as it sounds. 

First Step In Treatment

Typically, toenail fungus, also called onychomycosis, is treated with a visit to your foot doctor to get an anti-fungal medication. Your doctor is likely to start by prescribing either terbinafine or itraconazole, which have been used for years to fight fungal infections. 

The drawback? In some people, these medications can cause liver damage. Most of the time, you'll be monitored with blood tests to check your liver values as you use the drug. 

What's more, these systemic medications only work in about half the people who take them. You'll need to use them for about three months to see if there's any improvement. 

Laser Treatments

In just the last five years, laser treatments for onychomycosis have come on the scene. Previously, lasers strong enough to treat toenail fungus would damage the nail bed; recent technology allows laser manufacturers to target just the pathogens that cause fungal infections. The lasers use a specific wavelength that kills off the fungus without harming the nail or surrounding skin.

But are lasers effective? Because the technology is relatively new, there are few long-term studies about how well it works over time. One six-month study showed that 85 percent of patients showed some improvement with the laser treatments.

The biggest problem with laser treatment is the cost. At more than $1,000 -- and typically not covered by medical insurance -- the laser treatment might be more than you can budget for. 

Topical Medications

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved new topical drugs to fight toenail fungus in the past year. Efinaconazole and tavaborole (ask your foot doctor for brand names) are applied topically for several weeks. 

The benefit of the topical medication is fewer side effects compared to an oral drug. But the jury is still out on just how effective these medications are. One study showed that only 18.5 percent of patients using efinaconazole were cured after one year. Users of tavaborole had cures only 6.5 to 9 percent of the time.

Still, toenail fungus is notoriously hard to remove. If none of these methods work for you, a last-ditch effort is to remove the nail completely and let it regrow. Your podiatrist can give you more information about all your options and answer any questions that you may have. For more information, contact a professional like those at The Podiatry Center.