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The Fungus Among Us

Updated on February 6, 2016
*Not an accurate representation of toenail fungus.
*Not an accurate representation of toenail fungus.

Toenail fungus

For some of us, just thinking of it sends a violent shudder up our spines as we picture the hideous nail deformities that a fungal invasion can leave in its wake.

Nail fungus often gets described as causing “yellow, dry, brittle nails” and shown with euphemistic cartoon depictions of little nail fungus monsters loitering around the victimized nail, like a gang of '50s greasers harassing teenage girls outside the local ice cream shop.

But those of us who have suffered it know that such descriptions don’t do justice to how truly nasty this fungal scourge can be.

What’s worse is that often these fungi can linger for months (if not years), embedding themselves in both your nail bed and your self-image, making it hard to remember a time when you didn’t hide your hideous nail with polishes, closed-toe shoes, and/or a Michael Jackson glove.

Faced with the stark realization that some heinous, spore-producing organism has besieged your poor nail, the normal human reaction is to turn to Google for concrete answers… And Google has a lot of answers; they’re just not always concrete.

The thing is...

Filtering accurate information from Google’s answers can be mighty tough. A basic online search of “toenail fungus” brings up results that range from the Mayo Clinic’s awesomely informative nail fungus article to endless lists of top 10 home remedies, to a collection of ghastly pictures of other peoples’ fungus-infested feet.

As for treatments, recommendations include zapping it with laser beams to immersing your fungus-infested nail in Listerine mouthwash, to eating 1-2 crushed garlic cloves of crushed garlic each day.

It also seems like the vast majority of info sites about nail fungus – especially toenail fungus - are loaded with slants and spins intended to persuade us to take a specific course of action, one which usually involving talking with your doctor about some new brand-name pill.

“Side effects may include depression, insomnia, gout, sprouting a 3rd nipple, gangrene, more nail fungus, and/or death… Talk to your doctor about our fancy new pill today!”

Clearly, finding the most effective and sure-fire way of eradicating nail fungus is no easy task.

One of the less disturbing photos of actual nail fungus out there.
One of the less disturbing photos of actual nail fungus out there. | Source

And the answer is?

So, with all this in mind, what do we actually know about nail fungus and how to be rid of it?

To begin with, the official names for nail fungus are ‘onychomycosis’, ‘dermatophytic onychomycosis’ or ‘tinea unguium’.

In so far as nail diseases go, nail fungus (especially toenail fungus) is the most common one out there. For example, in the UK between 3-8 people out of every hundred will get a nail fungus infection at some point in their lives.

There are a variety of causes for nail fungus. A big one is from fungal skin infections that have spread to the nail. A prime example of this is toenail fungus that arises following the appearance of athlete’s foot.

Another major cause of nail fungus is communal showers, which often accounts for nail fungus occurrences in younger people and those over 60 years old.

If you have diabetes, psoriasis, poor circulation, are a smoker, or are sick/have a compromised immune system then you are also more susceptible to fungal invasions of your nails.

... So be careful. It’s a fungi-filled world out there.

Alright... But really, what is the final answer?

There is a vast plethora of treatment options to be found, but most recent studies have indicated that laser treatments using a laser light of 1064 nm are the most effective laser treatments for toenail and nail fungi.

However, if the thought of laser beams on your toenail freaks you out then more conventional and older treatments include the oral drug (re: pill) terbinafine (AKA: Lamisil) or itraconazole (AKA: Sporanox). These drugs are to be taken anywhere between 6 weeks to 3 months and are less likely to be effective on adults aged 65 and over. They have also been known to cause side effects that range from minor skin irritations to liver damage, so your doctor may want to do blood tests to see how things are going with your innards.

Other options include topical creams and polishes that you may need to apply for up to a year, or even the surgical removal of the fungussed nail itself, though this last option is more for stubbornly persistent and long-term nail fungus infestations.

Is that really the final answer?

In a word, yes… For now.

Nail fungus is nasty and it can be an unnerving nuisance to negotiate the nuances of nursing nail fungi, but it’s not all negative! With the advent of modern technology, nail and toenail fungus sufferers have more treatment choices than ever before. And that’s definitely a step in the right direction.


Kalokasidis K, Onder M, Trakatelli MG, Richert B, Fritz K: The effect of Q-switched Nd:YAG 1064 nm/532 nm laser in the treatment of onychomycosis in vivo. Dermatol Res Pract 2013, 2013:379725.

Waibel J, Rudnick A, Wulkan AJ: Prospective efficvacy and safety study to evaluate laser with real-time temperature feedback for fungal onychomycosis. Lasers Surg Med 2013, 12:1237-1242.


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