Toe Nail Fungus

May 14, 2019

By Trevor Shewfelt, Pharmacist at the Dauphin Clinic Pharmacy

My dad is a tall guy who has stood through a lot of things. He grew up in a small mining town on the north shore of Lake Superior. When he grew up, Wawa didn't have a highway connecting it to the rest of Canada. There was so much rock to blast, the section of the Trans-Canada highway that connected Wawa was the last part to be completed in the country. Like many mining towns, lately Wawa has fallen on hard times. Which brings in Jonny Harris. Jonny Harris is a comedian who visits small towns on the ropes for his TV show Still Standing. Still Standing has even been to Gilbert Plains recently. But my dad wondered what it means when the town you grew up in and the town you raised a family in are both visited by Still Standing.

You can't be still standing without your feet. And at the ends of your feet are your toe nails. Toe nails are specialized parts of the skin that protect the ends of our digits. The nail grows out from the small area inside the white half moon by the cuticle. It is estimated that 6.5% of Canadians have toe nail fungus. It is more common in older people. It is estimated that over 30% of people between the ages of 60 and 70 have toenail fungus. People with nail problems like having a nail injury or psoriasis near the nail are more likely to get toe nail fungus. People who wear footwear that don't let the feet breathe, people with poor circulation to their feet, people with diabetes and people with compromised immune systems are also more likely to get fungus. The medical term for toe nail fungus is onychomycosis. Onchomycosis is caused mainly by dermatophytes.

You can get infected toenails through contact with an infected person or through contact with an infected surface like a bathroom floor where the fungus is present. It is common to get toenail fungus at the same time as you get athlete's foot.

Fungus infected toenails look weird, but are not itchy or painful. In the most common type of toe nail infection, the end and/or sides of the nail get thicken and yellow. The infection can spread in all the way up to the cuticle and the nail matrix. Crumbling yellow debris is usually seen under the nail edge. We think of toenail fungus as just being ugly to look at. However, there are some non-cosmetic problems that can result from a fungal infection. The nail fungus can spread to other nails or even other parts of the body like the groin or scalp. In diabetics, the thickening nail can add extra pressure to the toes and lead to ulcers or sores. In extreme cases with diabetics, sores on the feet can lead to amputation, but that is rare.

What can be done if you have toenail fungus? First you should have a doctor have a look at the nail. There are other things besides fungus that can cause nail problems. Once a definite diagnosis has been made, you and your doctor need to decide how you want it treated. In some cases, the infected part of the nail can be removed. Onychomycosis can also be treated with medication. There are both oral pills and topical medications to apply to the nail.

The two most common oral medications for toenail fungus are terbinafine (lamisil) and itraconazole (sporanox). It is difficult to say which medications work the best because the studies about toenail fungus are very small and not that well done. The studies usually talk about when the nail is fungus free. A patient has to remember that even after the nail is fungus free, it will still take months and months for the nail to grow out and the yellow, thick, discolored areas to disappear. Toe nails can take a year to grow back.

Terbinafine has to be taken every day for 3 months to cure toenail fungus. Like all antifungals it can cause liver damage but the chances are remote. Your doctor should test your liver function before you go on it and repeat the liver function test in about 6 weeks. Depending on where I looked, I saw cure rates with terbinafine at about 46%.

Itraconazole is another antifungal oral medication, but it can be given as pulse therapy. That means you take the pills everyday for a week and then take 3 weeks off. You repeat this for 3 months. This pulse therapy can be more convenient for many people. Again there is the risk of liver damage and you doctor should check you out. The cure rates for itraconazole I found were around 23%.

If you aren't sure you want to get your liver function checked or have your toenail removed there are other options. Ciclopirox (Penlac) looks like nail polish. You apply it everyday and wipe off any excess about once a week with nail polish remover. Again, it will need to be used for about 3 months. The cure rate I found was about 7%. There is s newer prescription toe nail fungus nail polish on the market called Efinaconazole (Jublia). Its cure rate is listed at 17%.

The Dauphin Clinic Pharmacy makes another anti-fungal nail polish. For better or worse several of the doctor's have dubbed it "Trevor's Magic Nail Polish". It is made with the anti-fungal fluconazole. There are no large clinical studies on it, so I have no cure rate to give you, but anecdotally some patients who used it found it worked well.

Whichever nail fungus treatment you choose there are some things you can do on you own to help your toenails. Keep your nails short, dry, and clean. Keep your feet dry - make sure your feet (including between your toes) are completely dry before putting on shoes and socks. Wear absorbent cotton socks , and change them at least once a day. Wear proper fitting shoes and rotate shoes to allow them to dry out between uses. Don't go barefoot in damp public places like public showers - wear shower shoes. People with nail fungus shouldn't share shoes, socks or nail clippers with others. If you have diabetes, make sure your blood sugar is under control. As mentioned we don't want people with diabetes having their toe nail fungus causing sores and ulcers.

Jonny Harris did his wrap up set in Pinawa on Monday, May 13. Pinawa is a beautiful place on the Winnipeg River. It is nestled in the Canadian Shield on the edge of Whiteshell Provincial Park in Eastern Manitoba. It was home to the Whiteshell Nuclear Research Establishment. Pinawa had so many scientists that Lansdowne Ave, where I lived, had 6 PhD's on it even though it only had about 30 houses. But now the research facility has more or less shut down. The scientists have retired. But back to my dad's question. What does it mean when Jonny Harris visits both the town you grew up in and the town you've lived in for more than 4 decades? I guess it means you are Still Standing.

The information in this article is intended as a helpful guide only. It is not intended to be used as a substitute for professional advice. If you have any questions about your medications and what is right for you see your doctor, pharmacist or other health care professional.

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As always if you have any questions or concerns about these or other products, ask your pharmacist.

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