A fungal nail infection (Onychomycosis) occurs when fungi invade weaknesses in the nail or nail bed, causing an infection that can be difficult to treat. Many people first notice a fungal nail by its yellow or discolored appearance and hope it will heal on its own, only to be disappointed as the nail fungus grows and worsens over time.
Although nail fungus can be stubborn and difficult to get rid of, there are several options people can explore. Depending on the symptoms and severity of the infection, each option may be .
Nail Fungus Treatment Options
1) Topical Antifungal Medicine
Topical antifungals are the most popular way nail fungus is treated. "Topical" means that it's applied directly to the skin or nail where the fungus is present, and then either kill or prevent the spread of the fungus. Topical antifungals can come in many forms, including creams, powders, and ointments, and may have a wide range of active ingredients.
Topical antifungals are easily accessible, and many can be bought over the counter without a prescription. The fact that they can be applied directly to the area of the infection means exposure to the medicine is limited, as opposed to oral antifungals, which can affect other organs adversely, and interact with other medicine in the body.
The downside to topical antifungals is that there are many brands on the market that sell what amount to snake-oil concoctions of ineffective, and sometimes harmful chemicals to unassuming consumers. But it doesn't take unpronounceable chemicals to kill nail fungus, and often companies just use these simply to lower production costs. Look for topical antifungals that use natural ingredients for the safest treatment option.
- Available over the counter
- Affordable - $40 or less
- Applies directly to infected area
- Many ineffective brands
- Some use unnatural, harmful chemicals
Don't trust just any topical antifungal. Look for topical treatments with natural, recognizable ingredients.
2) Oral Antifungal Medicine
Oral antifungal pills are another well known treatment option for nail fungus. Typically, oral antifungals are used when nail fungus becomes severe or resists initial topical treatments. Because oral antifungals are designed to treat more severe cases of nail fungus, it comes with increased risks and requires a prescription to procure.
There are several name brand oral antifungals on the market that are fairly well known, and are typically covered by most insurances. However, without insurance, this treatment can be pricey -- up to $500 or more.
The real downside to oral antifungals comes from the severe side effects that can occur. These drugs are especially harsh on the liver and kidney's, and may require checkups during treatment to ensure organ function remains normal. Oral antifungals also can negatively interact with other common medicines, which can cause reactions or reduce effectiveness of the treatment.
- Effective against severe nail fungus
- Can cause severe side effects
- People with heart, liver, or kidney problems shouldn't use
Although the first option for fighting nail fungus isn't usually oral antifungal pills due to the risks and side effects, they can be one of the best choices to fight against instances of severe fungal nail infections.
3) Laser Nail Fungus Treatment
Laser treatment is one of the newer treatment methods on the market, and works by concentrating heat on the fungi until it dies. It is an appealing method because it can selectively treat the infected area while sparing healthy tissue around it.
The procedure involves multiple sessions, and the technology is quite costly. Insurance companies typically don't cover the procedure, meaning patience are stuck paying upwards of $1000 or more out of pocket. In instances where patients have severe nail fungus and are suffering from heart or liver conditions, it may be a worthwhile expense, but for the typical patient there are more cost effective options.
The biggest knock against laser treatment is that there isn't sufficient evidence to show it works, making it especially difficult to justify the cost. It's also unclear exactly how safe laser treatment is, as studies have yet to be performed analyzing its long term usage and effects.
- Limits area exposed to treatment
- Has shown some positive results
- Expensive & rarely insured
- Long term effects unknown
While laser treatment is the most futuristic treatment option available, it has a ways to go before becoming a truly viable option. With incomplete analysis of both the effectiveness and effects of the treatment, in addition to the steep price point, most patients will be better off sticking with topical or oral antifungals.
Other Treatment Options
Medicated Nail Cream:
Medicated nail creams are similar to topic antifungals, but require a prescription. They are applied directly to the infected area, and can still take months to clear the nail fungus. Medicated nail cream is sometimes prescribed along with oral antifungals, which may increase the risk of side effects.
Medicated Nail Polish
Medicated nail polish is exactly what it sounds like. The nail polish is usually applied daily for about 7 days and then removed with nail polish remover before starting over. Some have experienced positive results from this treatment, but treatment time can be upwards of a year or more.
Surgical Nail Removal
Surgical nail removal is used rarely and in extreme cases. The procedure can be done in a clinic or in a doctor's office, and the entire nail or just part of it can be removed. A fungal nail is surgically removed when all or part of the nail is extremely damaged, or if the fungal nail is very painful and affecting quality of life. The benefit of surgically removing the nail is that treatment can be applied directly to the nail bed, but it also comes with increased risk of infection, pain, and a longer recovery.