Laser nail fungus treatment is one of the newer innovations in fighting fungal nail infections -- but does it work?
The answer isn't quite so simple, so we took a closer look at laser fungal nail treatment with some critical questions -- from the short history of the treatment, to what studies and medical professionals are saying about it today.
When did laser nail fungus treatment start being used?
Laser treatment was first approved by the FDA in 2010. In 2015, there are now several kinds of laser therapies are available on the market.
How does laser nail fungus treatment work?
Laser nail fungus treatment works by focusing light energy on the infected area, which creates heat and ultimately destroys the living fungi. There are different lasers on the market that utilize different strengths and frequencies of laser light, but in general, all work on the same principle.
What is the benefit of laser vs. other treatments?
The main benefit of using laser light to treat nail fungus is that the laser can target the fungus more precisely, while sparing the healthy tissue surrounding it. Some topical treatments can consist of harsh chemicals and be tough on the skin, while oral antifungals are known for being hard on the liver and can react with other medicines, so the precision of laser treatment is a positive for some patients.
Does laser treatment work to eliminate nail fungus?
Because laser therapy is so new, few reputable studies have been performed on its effects, and those that have have produced conflicting results. Some early studies showed some positive results, but one of the most reputable studies to date, published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology and performed by researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, showed that treatments produced no improvements in patients with nail fungus, even after 5 treatments.
What are doctors saying about laser fungal nail treatment?
As could be expected, there is hardly a consensus among physicians. Doctors that perform the treatments are in favor of it, but most agree that the jury is still out on laser fungal nail treatments, and that there still may be a ways to go for the technology.
"I think we want it to work," said Dr. Andrea Bershow, director of the nail procedure clinic at the Minneapolis VA Health Care System, as quoted in the New York Times, "but the evidence isn't quite there yet."
Dr. Bershow said she is frequently asked about laser nail treatment from her patients, but never recommends it.
"The reason is that I don't know if it works, but it does cost a lot of money. I would hate to tell someone to go try something that insurance doesn't cover, that could cost them thousands of dollars, and that may or may not work."
How much does laser treatment cost?
The price of laser therapy is one of the main drawbacks of the treatment. Since there have been few studies on the effects of laser therapy thus far, many health insurers will not cover the treatment, forcing patients to pay out of pocket. Because the technology is fairly expensive, fees can range from hundreds into the thousands of dollars, especially if multiple treatments are required, which is often the case. This compared to $40 or less for topical treatments.
Takeaways on laser fungal nail treatment?
Laser fungal nail treatment has some upside, but needs more development and critical studies measuring its effectiveness before it can be considered a reasonable option in most cases. The fact that it can limit treatment to only areas that are affected by fungus is clearly a positive, but because of the cost of treatment and uncertainty around whether or not its actually helpful in treating nail fungus, laser treatment isn't yet a mainstream treatment option. Patients that have exhausted other treatment methods or suffer from conditions that restrict treatment choices may find value in trying laser fungal nail treatment, but for the average nail fungus patient, the negatives currently outweigh the positives.
Positives of laser fungal nail treatment:
- Precision of treatment
Negatives of fungal nail treatment:
- Yet to be determined effective in treating nail fungus
- Uncertain long-term affects
- High cost of treatment