Unfortunately, far too many people ignore problems with toenails until they become unbearable. Some people wait years before seeing us! However, the earlier you take steps to correct a problem, the less pain you’ll go through in the long run, and the easier and safer treatment can be.
Let’s take a closer look at the two most frequent toenail issues we treat in our office: ingrown toenails and fungal toenails.
The pain of an ingrown toenail can be quite sharp and intense. Rather than growing out like it’s supposed to, an edge or corner of an ingrown toenail begins digging into the soft surrounding flesh, producing redness, swelling, pain, and often extreme tenderness and sensitivity. In addition to the primary symptoms, ingrown toenails can get infected or lead to a case of fungal toenails, which we’ll talk more about below.
Ingrown nails can emerge as the result of an injury or environmental factor, such as stubbed toe, tight shoes, or poor nail trimming. However, many people are simply genetically predisposed to getting ingrown toenails, which makes prevention strategies less effective.
Ingrown Toenail Treatment
We can approach an ingrown toenail treatment in multiple ways, depending on the severity and your history with the condition. Some people may want to try a more conservative option first, such as having the nail gently lifted or trimmed to see if it improves. However, if you’ve been struggling with painful ingrown toenails for years without much relief, we may go straight to a more permanent fix. It really depends on your individual circumstances.
During a typical procedure, we’ll carefully cut out and remove a small portion of the toenail edge causing the problem, as well as prescribe antibiotics to treat or prevent any emerging infections. The procedure itself is fairly quick and can be performed in our office under local anesthesia.
If you’re sick of digging toenail edges out again and again, we can also remove a portion of the nail matrix responsible for growing new nail, meaning that edge will never grow back. This provides a more permanent solution and is generally recommended for people with chronic issues. We do our best to only remove the portions that are absolutely necessary, so the end result will look as cosmetically normal as possible.
The same group of keratin-eating fungi that causes infections elsewhere on your skin—athlete’s foot, for example—can also enter the space between your toenail and nail bed through tiny cuts or gaps. This can produce a range of symptoms, but the most common include toenails that are thickened, brittle or crumbly, yellowish and dull, or even physically warped and deformed.
Because the nail provides both a physical barrier as well as an endless supply of keratin, fungal toenails will not go away on their own, and they’re much more resistant to treatment than athlete’s foot. However, you do have some treatment options.
Treatment for Fungal Toenails
The most effective remedy for fungal toenails today is laser treatment, which has shown significant improvement over traditional treatment for most patients. The laser uses a beam of light that can pass through your nail safely and target the fungus residing underneath, all without harming your own skin or tissues. The laser is tested, FDA-approved, and safe to use with no known side effects, and most people require only three brief, 20-minute sessions.
Laser treatment can be combined with more traditional methods to increase effectiveness, too. Before lasers, the old method of treating fungal toenails involved a 90-day program of oral antifungals, along with topical medications. That came with some drawbacks: it’s a lot of time, a lot of medicine, and serious side effects (such as liver damage) could be a problem. However, we can use laser in combination with “pulse dosing” the medication—7 days in a row once per month—to attack the fungus from both inside and outside.
Our goal is always to give you a range of options and help you determine which choice is best for your situation. Treatment can be mild or aggressive. We will customize a treatment plan based on your goals and your concerns.
Care for Your Toenails in Lee’s Summit
If your toenails are looking damaged and causing you pain—whether that’s physical discomfort or just personal embarrassment—make an appointment with Dr. Joel Foster in Lee’s Summit, MO for quick, compassionate, and effective care. You can request an appointment online, or give us a call at (816) 246-4222.