Laser for Fungal Nails
Let’s be honest for a minute: Fungal toenails are just nasty.
And we mean that in more ways than one.
Number one and most obviously, they look nasty. Thick, discolored, ragged, and crumbly are not generally adjectives you want to use to describe a toenail. They are unsightly and frequently embarrassing for those who have them.
But also, they’re nasty in the sense that they don’t give up without a fight. Once they get hold of your toenail, they will never back down unless you make a conscious, consistent effort to treat your condition.
And even then, most traditional treatment methods come with serious drawbacks—low success rate, cumbersome daily requirements, uncomfortable side effects, or some combination of the above.
But all that is changing.
That’s because the addition of laser therapy to the treatment mix has made treating those nasty fungal toenail infections faster, easier, safer, more convenient, and just all-around better than ever before!
If you just want to skip ahead to the good bits and learn more about our process, feel free to skim down to the section titled The Golden Era: Laser Treatment Enters the Picture.
But if you’d like to get the full picture for why we’re so excited about combination laser therapy—and why it’s so many light years ahead of what came before—please read on. It’s an interesting tale, in our opinion anyway.
The Stone Age of Fungal Nail Treatment
As we established earlier, before laser treatment became part of the treatment process, none of the alternatives for eradicating fungal toenails were all that great—or at least not consistently so across the board, for everybody. They did eventually work for most people, of course, but there were some pretty significant drawbacks.
Even though fungal toenail infections are caused by the same exact micro-organisms as athlete’s foot, they have historically been much more resistant to treatment.
From the perspective of the fungi, the nail is both a near-impervious suit of armor and an eternal all-you-can-eat buffet rolled into one. They’ll never run out of keratin to feed from, and they’re well protected against topical antifungal creams and sprays.
If you wanted to get rid of them, that left you with, broadly speaking, two less-than-ideal options.
Option 1: Oral antifungal medications.
This was the “best” treatment option before laser came along, and it’s still the primary treatment method used by most podiatry practices nationwide. You take a prescription antifungal pill daily for a set period of time—usually 6 to 12 weeks.
Simple, right? For some people, yes. For others, not so much.
- Effectiveness is somewhat spotty. Long-term cure rates hovered in the 60-80 percent range depending on the type of drug used, the age and health of the patient, and just plain luck. That’s not awful, but it obviously left a lot to be desired. Success rates also drop for people over 65—which just so happens to be the demographic most likely to suffer from fungal nails in the first place.
- Side effects are common. Some of those side effects can be even nastier than fungal nails themselves, including uncomfortable skin rashes and even liver damage. Oral medications are generally not recommended for those with liver disease, congestive heart failure, or alongside various other conditions or medications.
Option 2: Use topicals anyway and hope for the best.
This sidesteps the problem of side effects for people with weakened livers or other complications that would make oral antifungals not worth the risk.
But in order for topicals to really have any chance to be effective, you need to thin your thickened fungal nail on a weekly basis (at minimum), and apply the topical medications every single day. Even then, it can take up to a year or more to work, if it works at all. Long-term cure rates are a coin flip at best.
The Golden Era: Laser Treatment Enters the Picture
So what makes laser treatment so much better?
Just about everything, that’s what.
- No medications required. You won’t have to take any pills or apply any chemicals to your nails or feet. You won’t even need anesthesia for the laser—you won’t feel a thing.
- No side effects. The laser is so precisely tuned that the light energy can pass right through the toenail, attacking the fungus and only the fungus, all without doing any collateral damage to healthy tissue. No pain, no risk of side effects, no problems.
- No annoying daily routines. One laser treatment session at our office can last as little as 15 minutes or less, depending on how many toes need treatment. A full treatment course, for most people, requires only three of these sessions spaced out over a 5-month period. That’s much better and more convenient than taking a pill every day.
- Higher success rates. In addition to being easier and safer, laser treatment also just plain works better. We’ve noticed much higher cure rates and patient satisfaction when compared to “stone age” treatment options
So how does it all work? The short, simple answer is, “with a really, really specific type of laser beam.”
A laser, you may be aware, is simply a highly focused and amplified beam of light, which in turn is a form of energy. And depending on how you focus that laser—wavelength, amplitude, frequency, power, etc.—it can do a huge variety of different things, from cutting steel to reading data off a Blu-ray.
The laser used for fungal toenail treatment has a remarkable combination of properties:
- Unlike topical medications, it can pass through the nail itself essentially unimpeded.
- It’s extremely harmful/deadly to the kinds of fungi that cause fungal toenails.
- Aside from the possibility of a slight warming sensation, it poses no risk of damage to your skin or toe.
One Step Further: Pulse Treatment
Those of you who have been reading carefully may have noticed something—up until now, we’ve never said that laser therapy has replaced older treatments—only that it’s been “added to the mix.”
And that’s the other great thing about laser treatment for fungal toenails: it’s not mutually exclusive with any other treatment. In fact, combining it with the use of oral medications is the best way to get rid of fungal toenails fast for most people, boosting success rates even higher while keeping the side effect risk low.
We call this approach pulse treatment, and here’s how it works: Instead of taking pills every day, you might take them for one week, then take three weeks off.
Adding the oral medications into your treatment plan gives you another “avenue of attack” against the fungi, working from the inside out while the laser works outside-in. And because you aren’t taking the pills every day for 90 days straight, your risk of side effects is significantly lower.
This still might not be the best approach for those with a high risk of liver problems, and of course we’ll monitor you carefully for any adverse effects. But for the vast majority of patients, pulse treatment really is the gold standard.
Keeping Your Fungus Away … For Good
So let’s say you’ve gone through the treatment process, and your fungal toenails are a thing of the past. Great news!
Now let’s keep them that way.
It’s important to remember that fungal toenails aren’t like, say, the chickenpox—which most people can only get once. There are no antifungal antibodies that remain in your system after your nails have been cleared.
You may have won this round, but the fungi are desperate to return. If you give them an opening, they will.
So if you want to give yourself the best possible chance of keeping your fungal toenails from returning, take some smart precautions:
- Don’t walk barefoot in public places like showers, locker rooms, and pool decks.
- Change socks and shoes when they become damp.
- Use antifungal powders or sprays on your feet and in your shoes to keep them dry and fungus-resistant.
- Rotate shoes each day so each pair can thoroughly dry out.
- If you develop athlete’s foot, treat it right away—it’s caused by the same fungi that cause fungal nails, and can easily spread there.
- Keep your toenails neatly trimmed, but not too short, and do not round the corners.
- Don’t share nail care equipment with anyone else.
- Avoid wearing artificial nails, or keeping nail polish on for long periods of time.
We Make It Easy
So now you know it’s out there, why it’s your best option for fungal nails, and where you can get it—right here in Lee’s Summit, MO.
And we make it easy, with quick consultations and no-fuss scheduling.
Cost is, of course, a concern for many of our patients, which is why we work hard to make sure laser treatment is an affordable option—even if your insurance might not cover it. Including the initial consult and all subsequent appointments, total treatment costs are $500 or less for most patients ($150 per session), although it depends on the number of sessions that are required.
So if you want an affordable, effective, safe, and convenient solution for your fungal toenails, give us a call and book that initial consult. You can reach us at (816) 246-4222.