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What is a toenail fungus infection, and how can I treat it?

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While fungal infections can affect the fingernails, they are most commonly found under the nail plates of the toes. Often associated with athlete’s foot, toenail fungus infections can lead to other problems with the feet and can aggravate circulatory problems in the lower legs.

Common symptoms of a toenail fungus infection include discomfort in the toes, difficulty clipping toenails, and difficulty getting footwear to fit properly. Infected toenails can become discolored and even crumbly; while the fungus proliferates under the nail plate, it causes the nail to thicken.

Dr. Jeffrey Altman, a dermatologist with Mercy Woodstock Medical Center, sees patients with varying degrees of fungal infections. “If a patient has a mild infection with no pain, and they’re able to trim their toenails, treating the infection isn’t always necessary,” said Dr. Altman. “Treatments are complicated by recurrence; if patients continue their habits that caused the problem, they’ll continue dealing with the infection.”

Toenail fungus infections are generally caused by a certain species of fungus called trichophyton, which is transferred from person to person. The infection isn’t developed from within the body, it’s “caught” when a person’s bare feet are exposed to the fungus. “Walking barefoot through airport security isn’t the greatest idea,” added Dr. Altman. “Fungal spores can live in carpet fibers, health club showers, and even in the nooks and crannies of shoes, for months and years.”

Treatment options consist of topical creams, oral medications, or surgical treatments. Dr. Altman prefers to prescribe terbinafine, a pill that is safe and well-tolerated, but can potentially interact with other medications; it’s important to check with your primary physician whether this is the best route. “Topical treatments can be very slow to work, but are safe,” said Dr. Altman. “Unfortunately, insurance sometimes doesn’t cover them, and they can be costly.” Surgical options are also not usually covered by insurance. For more information, please contact:

Dr. Jeffrey Altman, MD

Board Certified Dermatology

Mercy Woodstock Medical Center

2000 Lake Avenue, Woodstock, IL

(815) 337-7100

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