Preventing and Treating Onychomycosis

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By Dr. Keith Holmes, Ochsner Health Cntr
    For those suffering from a fungal nail infection, simple things such as wearing open toe shoes or shaking someone’s hand can be embarrassing.   Microorganisms that thrive in warm, moist environments, such as the inside of an enclosed shoe, are most often to blame for fungal nail infections.  Although onychomycosis is never debilitating, it definitely can cause permanent damage to the nail bed.  Because these infections can be difficult to eliminate, it is important to know what the risk factors are and how you can reduce your chance of infection.
    Fungal nail infections, which are also known as Onychomycosis, typically result in changes to the nail.  These can range from nail discoloration (resulting in a yellow or brown appearance) to thickening or brittleness of the nail.  Some nails may appear to have white spots or streaks in them and the nail may lose its shine or even change shape.  Nails may become loose and lift up from the finger causing soreness and pain.
Who’s at Risk?
    Typically older adults, diabetics and people with compromised immune systems are most at risk for a fungal nail infection.  Other risk factors may include:
• Getting a manicure or pedicure from a salon with improperly cleaned instruments
• Suffering a nail injury
• Prolonged wearing of socks and shoes that keep feet moist
• Having other skin or nail irritations such as athlete’s foot or a damaged nail
    Because fungal infections are difficult to eliminate, prevention is key.  It is important to maintain healthy nails by keeping them clean, dry and well-trimmed.  To prevent excess moisture on toenails it is a good idea to wear moisture absorbing socks.  For those at high risk for infection an antifungal foot spray or powder may be used.  
    If you do have a fungal nail infection your doctor may prescribe an antifungal medication or suggest an over-the-counter ointment to treat the infection.  One home remedy that I have found to be helpful for mild cases is listed below.  Laser therapy is also becoming more common in the treatment of these infections, especially for those with more advanced disease.
    Diabetics should pay especially close attention to any changes in their nails particularly their toenails due to decreased blood flow to the feet.  If you have diabetes and notice a change in your nails, it is a good idea to see your physician.  
Home Remedy for mild cases:
    Fill a basting pan with water and add 2-3 capfuls of chlorine bleach.  Soak infected feet in solution for 15 minutes twice a day for two weeks.  Wash your feet after each soaking and dry thoroughly.  Nails will turn white and new nails are expected to grow in 2-3 months.  If you have thick nails, put vicks vapo-rub on the nails daily.  Filing the nails with an emery board several times a week will make the treatment more effective
    Dr. Keith Holmes is an Internal Medicine physician at Ochsner Health Center – Central.  He can be contacted at 261-9790.  

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