Fungus Among Us

October 29, 2018

One of the benefits (among many!) of working out in the great outdoors is not being exposed to gym locker rooms where fungal infections can easily be contracted. That said, there are still some pertinent points for the outdoor athlete to be aware of concerning the prevention of toenail fungus.

Half of Americans over the age of forty have this condition. Toenail fungus is an infection, and can be transmitted person to person. It is also thought that some individuals have a genetic predisposition making them more susceptible to catching this infection. One way that outdoor athletes can pick up toenail fungus is after injury to a toenail, which is not uncommon in this population, particularly after running or hiking downhill in a shoe that is too short for the foot. (A good rule of thumb, aside from being measured, is to actually use your thumb – a shoe should roughly be a thumbnail’s width from the end of your longest toe to the end of the shoe. And don’t assume your longest toe is your big toe, because quite often it is the second toe that is the longest.) When a toenail is traumatized, the lifting of the nail from the underlying nail bed can act as a portal for fungus to come in and take hold.

So what to do if you suffer an injury to a toenail? The first thing to know is, any deformity or discoloration of the nail resulting from the injury will likely take the better part of a year to resolve, depending on how fast your nails grow. If you have athlete’s foot, this needs to be treated – the fungus that causes athlete’s foot is the same as that which causes toenail fungus, and can move from the skin to the nail, especially after an injury. Fortunately, unlike toenail fungus, athlete’s foot is very treatable with an over the counter topical antifungal cream. For nails, topical treatments result in a cure only 10% of the time, due to their inability to penetrate the nail.

What are other options if you do contract toenail fungus? A second is to take an oral antifungal medication. This is not without its risk of side effects, however, and results in a cure only 50% of the time. The latest treatment is the use of a laser that has a specific wavelength of light that kills fungus without harming the toe. This is effective 88% of the time in studies to date.

Of course, when it comes to toenail fungus (or any other medical condition for that matter), prevention is always the best medicine!

Adapted from Dr. Jennifer Barlow’s blog at — Thanks, Dr. Jennifer!

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