Many people suffer from a common problem: ugly, thick toenails. Often this is caused by onychomycosis, a fungal infection in the nails. Most people actually feel this is simply a minor cosmetic problem and really do not classify this as a disease. The reality is that onychomycosis can actually be a devastating problem for many people. In fact, a recent study has linked onychomycosis with depression in otherwise healthy patients.

Onychomycosis, over a period of time, makes your nails yellow, thick and often extremely disfigured. This is embarrassing and many people hide their toes in closed toe shoes due to the disfigurement. Many people will even wear sneakers to the beach to avoid showing their toenails. Surveys have shown a lack of intimacy, decreased feelings of self-worth and depression associated with onychomycosis. With almost 30% of the adult population suffering from toenail fungus, and this number increasing to almost 90% in the elderly, why do most people feel it is just cosmetic? Because it hasn't happened to them yet!

There is hope for people who suffer from toenail fungus. Traditional topical and oral therapies have been less successful than patient expectations. Lots of unhappy people with severe frustration!

Topical therapies patients have tried encompass a wide variety of products and folklore including the use of Vick's Vaporub, organic cornmeal soaks, and a variety of over-the-counter products. Even the only FDA approved prescription topical, ciclopirox, is shown to be only 8% effective in their own package insert! Imagine painting your toenail with a topical therapy for over a year, every day, and still having ugly toenails!

After failure of topical therapy, most people discuss oral anti-fungals with their doctors. Common oral therapies include terbinafine, fluconazole, and itraconazole. These are more effective than any topical, but come with possible side effects including many drug interactions and liver problems. They are touted as somewhere between 50 and 70% effective depending on dosage and duration of therapy. Many people after taking these medications still have ugly toenails! More frustration!

Hope has recently increased for patients who have struggled with chronic onychomycosis. New laser therapy for onychomycosis is the most exciting treatment now available. A pulsed UVA laser has been shown in preliminary studies to eradicate much of the fungus and often clearing is seen in 9 to 12 months. This therapy is not widely available, but has been shown to be around 80% effective in these early studies. The FDA is still reviewing the Patholase laser application for approval, but the treatment is available in limited areas as an "off-label" usage. The laser light is painless and only affects the infected tissue. Hope abounds!

Funky looking toenails can also occur from psoriasis, eczema and other nail pathologies. If you have thick, nasty looking toenails, a visit to your local podiatrist for a PAS (Periodic acid-Schiff) stain of a piece of your toenail will determine if you have a fungal infection. If you have a positive PAS stain, look into the new laser therapy before your toenails cause a lifestyle change! There is hope even if you have suffered from embarrassing toenails for years!