Going toe to toe with nail fungus

Published On: Jun 19 2012 12:17:56 PM EDT   Updated On: Jul 05 2012 01:28:51 PM EDT

(NewsUSA) - Most people will walk the equivalent of three times around the earth in their lifetime. That's a huge amount of wear and tear on your foot's many bones, joints, tendons, ligaments and muscles -- and, more to the point, it increases the potential that you'll develop a very painful and/or unsightly case of toenail infection.

Specifically, we're talking onychomycosis, the medical term for fungal infection of nails. An estimated 35 million Americans have it, and you can understand why -- despite having spent more than $350 million in 2010 alone trying to get rid of it -- they don't much like discussing it: Toenails turn embarrassingly yellow and crumbly from fungi that squeeze under them and then hide out.

And, oh, yes, for reasons not clearly understood, the fungi dig in even deeper as we age.

"Feet are the most neglected body part until there is a problem," says Dr. Krista Archer, a Manhattan foot specialist and podiatric surgeon.

Those Most At-Risk

While some people are genetically prone to onychomycosis, others -- including swimmers and athletes -- unintentionally leave themselves open to it because of certain behavioral patterns.

Maybe they go barefoot in public areas. Or maybe their feet are often damp -- just the environment, experts say, that fungi thrive in.

Treatment Options

As a recent article in Podiatry Management makes clear, there are a few drugs that tackle the problem. However, their use "must be balanced against the risk of unpleasant side effects that include gastrointestinal disorders, headaches and minor skin rashes." There are also new topical treatments available.