Toenail health may not be at the top of your priorities list, but it should be. The feet can be a breeding ground for fungus, and the toenail bed is a favorite location for certain fungi.
If you start seeing changes in your toenail color, texture, or strength, don’t just apply nail polish on or cover up with socks. Talk to a foot doctor (podiatrist) about whether it’s a case of toenail fungus, which requires quick and consistent treatment.
But first, explore some of the best toenail fungus treatments in Los Angeles.
Understanding Toenail Fungus
Toenail fungus, also called onychomycosis, is a common fungal infection that affects the area between your toe and toenail. It’s usually caused by dermatophytes, a mold that feeds on a certain type of protein called keratin.
Everyone naturally has keratin in their hair, skin, and nails, so it’s possible to get onychomycosis on other areas of the body. However, at that point, the fungal infection is called toenail fungus if its on the nail. Ringworm if on the skin (also jock itch and athlete’s foot, depending on the location).
Any type of onychomycosis is contagious. Toenail fungus, in particular, often spreads to nearby toenails. It can also spread to another person through direct contact or sharing foot products, although people commonly get it walking barefoot in public areas or on shared surfaces. Fungi prefer dark, damp areas and thrive in areas like swimming pool perimeters, locker rooms, and shared showers.
Who Gets Toenail Fungus?
Everyone can get toenail fungus, but it’s much more common in older adults—particularly men. A recent study found that toenail fungus prevalence in children is just 0.4%. That number increases to 35% in the elderly. People with diabetes, hyperhidrosis, psoriasis, and immunodeficiency are also much more likely to get onychomycosis.
Lifestyle factors also play a significant role in a toenail fungal infection. For example, smoking and obesity can increase someone’s chances of getting toenail fungus, as can poor nail grooming and nail trauma. Athletes are also more prone to toenail fungus since their feet sweat a lot, creating the perfect environment for mold growth.
What Does Toenail Fungus Look Like?
Onychomycosis is essentially a buildup of fungus underneath the toenail. The actual fungus isn’t visible, but the effects on the toenail are. The nail may become thicker than normal and turn yellow, brown, or white. Some patients experience chalky spots or streaks on the nail.
The toenail also becomes brittle and can break or change shape, especially along the edges. If the fungus builds up too much, it can actually lift the nail off the bed and even cause it to fall off.
While toenail fungus can look unsightly, it usually doesn’t cause pain or discomfort.
Topical Treatments for Toenail Fungus
One of the most conventional treatments for any fungal infection is a topical antifungal cream. Patients can easily get over-the-counter ointment for ringworm or athlete’s foot and apply it directly to their toenails.
However, toenail fungus isn’t like other fungal infections—onychomycosis is much harder to treat and readily comes back. So while over-the-counter topical toenail fungus treatments in Los Angeles can be effective, patients must use them consistently for at least several months. And even if the infection is completely cured, the recurrence rates for toenail fungus can reach up to 53%.
With advanced toenail fungal infections, a foot doctor might recommend a prescription-grade cream for a more effective treatment. Even once toenail fungus is cured, podiatrists might recommend continued use of topical cream to help prevent recurrence.
Oral Treatment Options
Oral treatments are a much stronger—and usually more effective—method of treating toenail fungus. However, they are not recommended for everyone because of their often-serious side effects.
Many oral antifungals are known to affect liver function, cause nephrotoxicity (rapid kidney deterioration, and result in skin issues. These side effects become much more concerning in older patients, who are the ones most susceptible to toenail fungus. As a result, podiatrists typically prefer to try other treatment options.
Natural Remedies and Home Treatments
With the side effects of oral treatments and the slow process with topical creams, many people might try natural remedies to help remove the fungal infection. Common choices include vinegar, essential oils, garlic, and baking soda. However, there’s limited evidence of their efficacy.
A few studies have shown that certain combinations of home remedies can work, but the clinical groups have been extremely small. For example, a 2020 study showed that combining tea tree, lime, and oregano essential oils with vitamin C had a 78.5% cure rate—but that was only with 20 patients. Another report found that garlic can help treat certain onychomycosis symptoms, but it highlights the need for further research.
Laser Therapy for Toenail Fungus
With the questionable efficacy of all these treatments, patients may struggle to treat and completely cure their toenail fungus. Thankfully, there is an alternative treatment option: laser therapy.
Laser therapy is a minimally invasive approach that targets fungal infection at its core. Unlike topical treatments that just reach visible areas of the toe and toenail, the laser reaches through the toenail and vaporizes the fungi in the nail plate, making it much more efficient.
While this process may sound painful, it’s not. Laser treatments do not damage the nail or surrounding tissue at all, and they cause a warming sensation rather than pain. Foot doctors usually recommend treating all ten toes—not just the ones visibility infected—because of onychomycosis’ high contagion rate. The entire process takes about 30 minutes, and patients can walk out of the office just like they walked in.
Sometimes just one laser therapy can kills all the fungi, making it a much more efficient and safer treatment option than oral or topical approaches. However, patients may not immediately see results since the nail needs time to grow and shed the damaged parts. Toenails grow at a much slower rate than fingernails, so it could be several months before the damaged nail is completely gone—but patients usually see new, healthy growth quickly.
Combining Treatment Approaches
Toenail fungus is notorious for its high recurrence rate, so foot doctors may recommend a two-pronged approach. For example, they often prescribe a combination of oral and topical treatments—or even laser therapy and topical cream.
As mentioned above, topical ointments can serve as a preventative measure. So while laser therapy completely kills the fungus, the cream helps ensure it doesn’t immediately return.
Once patients have effectively treated their toenail fungus, they need to take proactive steps to minimize recurrence risk. An easy way to do this is to avoid walking barefoot in public places—especially ones that are damp or wet. Athletes, swimmers, or people who regularly visit public locker rooms should be sure to pack shower shoes or flip-flops to keep their feet safe.
Toenail trauma can also open a wound and give the fungus a place to live. Because of that, people should make sure to protect their feet and take care not to rip or tear the toenail when cutting it. Soaking toenails can make it easier to cut them and reduce the possibility of tearing.
Another prevention strategy is always keeping the feet dry. That means fully drying them after a shower or bath. Athletes may need to invest in socks that wick away sweat to ensure they don’t create an ideal environment for fungus.
Seeking Professional Advice
Of course, the right toenail fungus treatment in Los Angeles depends on the patient, the severity of the infection, and any underlying conditions. For example, some people may do well with oral treatments, while others may not be able to consider that option. That’s why it’s important to seek professional advice.
An experienced podiatrist can diagnose toenail fungus and recommend a treatment plan that works well for the patient. This may include a combined treatment plan or just one laser therapy treatment—it depends on the patient.
If you think you have toenail fungus, talk to an experienced foot doctor as soon as possible so you can get a personalized toenail fungus treatment in Los Angeles. Since fungal infections can readily come back, it’s important to take a proactive approach and get early, effective care.
And be prepared for a consistent treatment plan. Even if you opt for quick, simple laser treatment, you still need to make some daily changes to ensure proper foot hygiene and prevent recurrence.
A podiatrist can help you with both the treatment and the prevention, so schedule an appointment today.