If you've noticed thickening or discoloration of your toenails, there's a possibility that you may have developed a fungal infection. While fungal toenail infections are exceedingly common, they can be embarrassing, painful, and stubborn to treat. And although fungal infections are notorious for being difficult to cure, there are effective options out there.

There are three options when it comes to fungal toenail treatments: oral medications, usually Terbinafine, prescribed by a physician; a topical antifungal solution applied directly to the affected nails; and laser nail therapy, which penetrates the nail itself to kill the fungus at its source.

Knowing which option is right for you comes down to your lifestyle and the severity of your fungal infection. This article will detail the various antifungal treatments available so you can make the best decision.

A doctor examines bare foot with onycholysis on a toenail after damaging with tight shoes or using gel-lacquerHow Do I Know If I Have Fungal Toenails?

Fungal nails are typically categorized by discoloration and thickening. Your nails may appear yellowish or brown and become brittle and crumbly. Because of the underlying infection, you may feel more discomfort as the nails grow thicker and thicker. The only way to be 100% sure that you're suffering from fungal toenails is to have a sample of the affected nail tested. This can be done in a podiatrist's office, and test results are usually ready within a week or so.

The Benefits of Having Your Nails Tested For Fungus

While you may be able to look at your nails and realize that there is something wrong, abnormal nail growth can be attributed to trauma or damage to the nail in addition to the possibility of an infection. Not knowing for sure that you are suffering from a fungal infection could cause you to waste your time and money by trying ineffective treatments. Buying countless over-the-counter topical antifungal treatments can get expensive, so you'll want to be completely certain that you know what you're dealing with. These laboratory tests are usually covered by your insurance, and can even detect the specific species of fungus as well as the presence of molds or yeast in the sample. 

Treating Fungal Toenails at Home

You may not have the time or resources to spend going to a doctor for fungal nails. While a professional opinion will increase your chances of successfully getting rid of your fungal toenail infection, at-home treatment is available. Most drugstores sell OTC antifungal kits, and prices start at around $10. Many home remedies for fungal nails include vinegar, tea tree oil, and more (I've even seen patients try Listerine mouthwash!). While there may be some scientific evidence that these things may work, it's important to check the reviews and ingredients list before putting any type of treatment on your nails. 

What You Should Look For In Topical Antifungal Treatments

I recommend looking for products that include Tolnaftate as an active ingredient. Tolnaftate is used to treat various fungal infections including athlete's foot, ringworm, and fungal toenails. It works by preventing the growth of the fungus. By applying tolnaftate directly to the nails, the infection will subside and the appearance of your nails will begin to improve as they grow. 

tolcylen nail renewal systemAdditionally, Tolcylen Antifungal Solution is a nail-renewal system that not only kills the fungal infection but also improves the aesthetic look of your nails. While this product is only available for purchase from podiatric professionals, a positive fungal nail sample is not required as Tolcylen will help to improve the look of your nails regardless of whether or not you have a fungal infection. It is most effective when applied once daily, and it is important to note that the medication does not work when used over nail polish. 

Oral Antifungal Medications

Another option to treat fungal nail infections is talking to your doctor about oral medication. Terbinafine is the most common oral antifungal medication, and it must be prescribed by a physician. It is usually prescribed once daily for 30-90 days. This gives your nails plenty of time to grow out, but the medication's effectiveness relies on you remembering to take it every day. So if this is the route you want to take, here are a few tips to get you started:

  • Be prepared to have some blood work done. According to the National Library of Medicine, terbinafine has been linked to rare instances of acute liver injury, so your provider will need to be sure your liver enzymes are normal, and continued liver monitoring may also be necessary.
  • Take it as directed. Taking your medication as prescribed is important no matter what medication it is, so set an alarm as a daily reminder if you have a hard time remembering to take your pills.
  • Encourage healthy nail growth through diet. Vitamins and minerals play a huge role in the health of your nails, so eating foods that help your nails grow strong is important no matter which fungal toenail treatment you decide on. 

before and after of a fungal toenailLaser Therapy For Fungal Toenails

This new, effective treatment for fungal toenails is available in a clinical setting, and services are provided by a knowledgeable foot-care specialist and their assistants. The treatment is virtually painless, with most patients reporting only slight heat where the laser is applied. Because the laser has the ability to penetrate the nail to tackle the underlying fungus, your nails' appearance will approve with only a few treatments. 

Laser nail therapy isn't billable through most commercial insurance, but packages are affordable and some people find them more convenient than applying a topical treatment or taking a pill every day. That's because the treatment only requires 3-4 sessions spanning several months. After these sessions, your provider should follow up to see how well the treatment worked. 

How Long Do Fungal Nails Take To Heal?

Here's the deal: most fungal nail treatments stop the growth of the fungus as the nail itself grows out. They don't typically work by healing the nail that is already fungal. That means your nail will start looking clearer as it grows. It takes your toenails roughly 3-6 months to grow out, which means it may take just as long for your fungal infection to be eradicated. 

When Should I Treat My Fungal Nails?

The answer to this question is very simple: right now. Fungal nails are common; however, you're human, and we humans tend to get embarrassed about things! You shouldn't have to live a life where you feel that you have to hide your feet because of a fungal infection. As a foot and ankle specialist, I see a ton of fungal nail patients. The one thing I find that most of them have in common is their collective shame. They delay getting treatment because they think I'm going to be judgemental of the appearance of their nails. This simply isn't the case.

Side note: if your doctor makes you feel shameful or embarrassed, it's time to find a new doctor. Their job is to give you the tools to get better, not make you feel bad about something you might have no control over. 

You may think that the best time to seek treatment for your fungal nails is Spring or Summer when you're starting to break out the sandals. The truth is, many folks don't realize they have a toenail issue until the warmer months roll around. And remember when I said that fungal nail treatments take time because they work as your nail grows? This is why the best time of year to treat your fungal nails is the Fall. So this October (or Oc-TOE-ber if you enjoy podiatry humor as much as I do), give yourself a little treat, and take the steps to get rid of your thick, discolored toenails. You deserve it!

Podiatrists Treat Fungal Toenail Infections and More

Have you ever noticed that people tend to be embarrassed about their feet, regardless of how they look? Do you find yourself feeling this way too? That's why I find it so important to seek care from a podiatrist who you can trust. At Freeland Foot and Ankle, we pride ourselves on providing the most respectful, compassionate, and comprehensive care for all of your foot and ankle ailments. Call 989-695-6788 or fill out our contact form to connect with a caring team member today!

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