Hello, Healthy Toenails!

Are you toe shy?

It’s almost summer, and soon you’ll want to be walking around in sandals and flip-flops. But if you’re one of the millions of people with toenail fungus, you’ll be less likely to toss your socks.

An infected nail often will have unsightly white, yellow or orange/brown patches or streaks. It can also turn thicker, crumbly, ragged or dull, according to the Mayo Clinic. Sometimes the nail starts to separate from the nail bed.

Nail fungus, also medically known as onychomycosis, is a chronic fungal infection of the fingernails and/or toenails from ringworm, yeasts and molds, leading to gradual destruction of the nail plate. It is more likely to affect toenails, particularly the big toenail, than fingernails.

Bad News About Using a Prescription Pill 

If you’ve talked to your primary care doctor or dermatologist about your toenails, you may have been prescribed a pill, Nizoral, (ketoconazole). But the FDA has now issued an  alert.

In brief, it says, “Use of this medication carries the risk of serious liver damage, adrenal gland problems, and harmful interactions with other medicines that outweigh its benefit in treating these conditions.”

A death was reported to the FDA. A patient was taking the drug to treat toenail fungus and died of liver failure. Yes, it’s somewhat rare, but this level of warning from the FDA should not be ignored.

But There’s Still a Good — or Better — Option

There’s something else you can do that almost always works: tea tree oil. It’s inexpensive and available over the counter at most pharmacies, including Wal-Mart and Target. Just cut the affected nail or nails as short as possible (without hurting the surrounding skin), and apply tea tree oil with a Q-tip to the top, sides and end of the nail twice a day, for four to eight weeks.

I know, that’s a long time. But build it into your routine and it’s not so bad.

One thing you should know: your goal is to keep the new nail healthy as it grows in. Understand that the part of the nail that has been damaged by the toenail fungus will not repair itself or ever look right. Instead it will gradually grow out. Keep carefully cutting your nails nice and short, and be patient.

The Moral to this Story

When you have a disease or condition that is irritating but not serious, always ask for the lowest risk, least invasive way to treat it. If you doctor says something like, “There’s really only one way to effectively get rid of ______,”  ask if you might be able to try something topical, or non-prescription first.

Your goal should be to resolve your problem by using the lowest-risk, fewest side effect option.



About Barbara Bronson Gray, RN, MN

I'm an experienced healthcare and science editor and journalist. But most of all, I'm a registered nurse with many years of experience working in hospitals. I've learned what patients and families need first hand. But I've also worked to improve hospitals and educate people about their health. I'm committed to helping people take charge of their health care and get what they need from a complex and often discouraging healthcare system.
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