Fungal infection of the toenails, called onychomycosis, causes the toenails to become thick and hardened with crumbling edges. According to MayoClinic.com, the infection may first appear as a small white spot that eventually spreads, infecting the whole nail. One or more toenails can be affected. Fungal infections of the nail are difficult to treat and often recur. A new approach, laser therapy, claims to be effective in eradicating fungal infections from the toenails.
Causes of Toenail Fungus
Fungi are tiny microscopic organisms that exist in dark, warm, moist environments, such as public showers and swimming pools. Fungi called dermatophytes are responsible for causing infections in the toenails, according to MayoClinic.com. Fungi get into the toenail through a tiny opening in the skin or a spot where the nail is separated from the nail bed. Fungal infections of the toenails are more likely to occur in elderly people, possibly due to decreased circulation, and are more prevalent in men than women.
Types of Lasers
Currently, there are two models of lasers available for the treatment of toenail fungus. According to the Foot and Ankle Center, the Patholase laser does not have an FDA approval for the treatment of fungal infections of the toenail, and studies performed have not supported it as being effective in treating toenail fungus. Another model from Nomir Medical technologies is waiting for FDA approval, and studies have shown an 85 percent improvement in appearance of the toenails after six months. More studies to evaluate the appearance of the nails 12 months post-laser treatment are under way.
How Lasers Work
The laser is a concentrated beam of light energy that vaporizes tissue in the area of treatment, according to Toenail Fungal Treatments. Different wavelengths of energy are used in order to selectively treat different body areas. The fungus is targeted and destroyed by the laser, allowing the nail and surrounding skin to remain intact. The laser beams heats the fungus, killing it, without affecting the surrounding tissue. Studies have shown promising results, but it has not been proven that lasers are effective in eradicating toenail fungus infections.
Treatment Procedure and Costs
The treatment can be performed in the office and takes approximately 20 minutes. Three separate visits may be required, according to Dr. Marc Katz, a podiatrist practicing in Tampa, Fla. The laser beam operates at two separate wavelengths to destroy any pathogens. No anesthesia is required to perform the procedure. To date, this procedure is not covered by medical insurance and can be expensive. Toenail fungus is considered to be a cosmetic disease. Laser treatment can cost $1,000 to $2,500 and must be paid by the patient.
Complications and Side Effects
According to Park Plaza Foot Specialists of Houston, the laser procedure is not painful. It reports no health or age restrictions for having laser treatment performed on fungal toenails. It says there have been no clinical reports of any side effects or adverse reactions, and that shoes and nail polish can be worn directly following treatment. The primary physician should be consulted for advice before undergoing laser treatment for toenail fungus.