About Nail Fungus treatments at Dermatology Associates of Atlanta
While most people know that dermatology specializes in skin care, few realize that the field also involves hair and nails, too. The health of your skin, hair, and nails are all intertwined, and our board-certified providers at Dermatology Associates of Atlanta (DAA) can address each of these concerns together. This is particularly important in the case of the most common nail disorder in the US: nail fungus.
Nail fungal infections (medically called onychomycosis) occur when a fungus overgrows on, under, or within the nail. While the condition can affect both the fingernails and the toenails, toenails are particularly vulnerable because they often come into contact with the warm, damp environments that allow fungi to grow. Even the inside of your shoe (particularly if your feet tend to sweat) can help fungi grow. While the infection itself is not harmful to most people, it causes the nail to become thick, discolored, brittle, ragged, and irregularly shaped, which can make patients feel embarrassed or can eventually lead to discomfort and irritation.
Causes of Nail Fungus
The fungi that can cause nail infections can be present anywhere, but they flourish in warm, damp environments like community showers, swimming pools, and locker rooms. The same fungi that cause athlete’s foot and jock itch can cause a nail fungal infection as well. In many cases, the infection doesn’t begin in the nail itself but in other parts of the anatomy around it, like the nearby skin or the nail bed. While you won’t be able to fully avoid contact with fungi, you can help your body ward off infections by keeping your feet dry, avoiding walking barefoot in warm, damp areas, wearing shoes with “breathable” fabric and socks that “wick” away moisture, and regularly washing and drying your hands and feet. Some people are more susceptible to fungal infections than others, including those with poor circulation, the elderly, those with diabetes, and those with weakened immune systems.
Types of Nail Fungus
While nail fungal infections are referred to as onychomycosis, there are five subtypes based on the cause of the infection:
- Distal lateral subungual onychomycosis (DLSO)
- White superficial onychomycosis (WSO)
- Proximal subungual onychomycosis (PSO)
- Endonyx onychomycosis (EO)
- Candidal onychomycosis, or an infection caused by yeast
People with nail fungus may have one or more of these subtypes. When any form of fungal nail infection becomes particularly advanced, it is called dystrophic onychomycosis.
Treatments for Nail Fungus
Our board-certified dermatologists can evaluate the type and progression of your fungal infection and design a treatment plan based on your needs. Some common treatments include:
Anti-fungal medications can travel through your system and address the typical root of an infection: the tissue surrounding your nail. This treats and kills the fungi at the source. Recent advancements have improved the effectiveness of oral medications and have allowed them to require shorter courses of treatment. However, they aren’t the right choice for everyone, and they aren’t recommended for patients with certain other conditions like liver problems or heart failure.
Laser treatments for nail fungus can penetrate through the nail to kill the targeted fungi, breaking down the barrier that makes most topical treatments ineffective. With a similar effectiveness to oral medications but less impact on the rest of the body, laser treatments can be a better option for certain patients, though multiple sessions are sometimes needed.
In some mild cases of nail fungal infections, topical treatments can be helpful. However, in most cases, the medication cannot penetrate deep enough to reach the fungi. In order to make topical treatments effective, they must typically be combined with removal of the nail so that the medication can be directly applied to the underlying tissue.
For most patients, treating nail fungal infections earlier will make them easier to eliminate, so if you suspect you have nail fungus, schedule an appointment at Dermatology Associates of Atlanta.
Frequently Asked Questions about Nail Fungus
How long do the results of nail fungus treatments last?
While treatment for nail fungus can be effective, it is common for the infection to reappear. The earlier you seek treatment, the easier it may be to resolve the infection before your symptoms worsen.
Are nail fungal infections dangerous?
For most people, the primary problems with nail fungus are appearance and inconvenience, as the nail can become difficult to care for and can make certain styles of shoes uncomfortable. But if left untreated, the fungus can spread to other nails and the surrounding skin. There are some long-term risks as well, including loss of the affected nail(s), the infection spreading into the bloodstream, and the development of a potentially dangerous skin infection called cellulitis. People with diabetes have a particularly high risk for serious complications from nail fungus, so if you have diabetes, seek treatment as soon as you suspect a fungal nail infection.
Is nail fungus contagious?
Yes, nail fungus can spread from one person to another. The best ways to prevent a fungal infection are to keep your hands and feet clean and dry, avoid walking barefoot in warm, damp environments like communal showers and locker rooms, limit pedicures to nail salons which you know to be clean, and keep your nails trimmed so fungus and debris won’t collect on them.