Janet Murphy loves swimming pools, and she guesses she caught the rare fungus on her two big toes there.
“It was pretty ugly,” says the Johnstown woman. “It really was.”
Which made it extra disappointing when she began researching and discovered how difficult it is to treat toenail fungi — much less some rare strain, like she was dealing with.
“Of course I don’t get anything normal, right?” she jokes.
Topical creams or natural remedies, like tea tree oil, weren’t going to cut it. and her doctor recommended she take a medication with a side effect Murphy wasn’t willing to risk: liver damage, and possible liver failure and death.
Still, Murphy describes herself as the kind of woman who likes to get things taken care of. so she continued hunting for a solution.
She ended her search under a new laser that claims to improve most cases of stubborn toenail fungus with no pain and no side effects.
The laser, called the PinPointe FootLaser, was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of nail fungus in October. Local podiatrist Jim Anderson has been offering it for about two years. in fact, he was one of the first doctors in the nation, and the first in the state.
Since then, he has set up lasers in six different locations throughout Colorado, including one at the Exempla good Samaritan Medical Center in Lafayette. Anderson’s main office is the Poudre Valley Foot and Ankle Clinic in Fort Collins, but he visits Boulder County twice a week for appointments.
The Flatirons Foot and Ankle Clinic in Longmont also offers a nail laser, with the Physicians Laser Institute (888laser50.com).
“People are really motivated to get rid of this stuff,” Anderson says — and the thick yellow toenails often come to the forefront of their minds this time of year, as the weather warms up and the shoes pop off.
“They don’t like that icky, ugly nail on their foot. It’s hard to trim, they’re unsightly and some people are really embarrassed of the looks of it,” he says. “Sometimes, it can even become painful. People become desperate and will do anything to get rid of it.”
Because the infection is under and inside the nail, it’s difficult to reach and treat. Some people try medicated nail polish or bleach, mouthwash, vinegar and other household products, but doctors say that rarely works. Eventually, some people end up getting the nails removed.
Before prescribing the most common oral prescription, Lamisil, Anderson says he would conduct a liver panel first to make sure its functioning well, because Lamisil can be hard on the liver, he says.
“You got to be careful, but I’m not against using it,” he says.
It depends on the patient and their health, he says — and likely, a last option.
Fungal nail infections affect more than 10 percent of the country, or 35 million people, according to estimates.
Some people, like Murphy, think they contracted the fungus at recreation facilities or locker rooms, but often people don’t know where it came from. the foot is warm, dark and moist, Anderson explains, which is the ideal home for a fungus.
And although the fungus is contagious, whether you catch it on one toe, 10 toes or not at all, comes down to your individual body’s immune system, he says. so one partner might have it but never pass it on in 30 years.
That’s why part of the burden for treatment and prevention comes down to the individual, Anderson says. in addition to the laser treatments, he advises patients to use anti-fungal spray in their shoes, cream on their feet and keep them clean and dry.
How it works
The treatment is simple and takes about 45 minutes. after a phone consultation, the doctor examines the feet, grinds all 10 of the toenails down and thins the nails, which helps the laser penetrate better. (Nails are thinned using a special spray that doesn’t hurt, Anderson says.)
Anderson treats all nails, in case they might be affected but not yet showing. Toenails grow slowly, and any change — for better or for worse — can take months to show up.
The laser beam is directed across the nail, pulsating light into the nail bed and targeting the fungi, while not affecting the surrounding tissue.
“Most people don’t even know it’s being done. there is not any pain, but it vaporizes the fungus, instantaneously killing it because of the heat,” Anderson says.
Clinical evidence shows 81 percent of patients showed improvement within a year.
The downside: Cha-ching. Insurance doesn’t cover nail laser treatment, so the $950 price tag comes out of the patients’ pockets.
But removing a pesky fungus isn’t purely cosmetic, Anderson says. People with diabetes or poor circulation risk getting an infection or ingrown toenail that they wouldn’t feel in their feet, potentially leading to amputation, he says. the Mayo Clinic says you’re also at a greater risk for cellulitis, a potentially serious bacterial skin infection.
And the thicker toenails can be uncomfortable or painful.
Furthermore, the clinic warns that fungal infections can lead to other serious infections elsewhere in your body if you have a weak immune system, diabetes or other conditions.
The clinic recommends seeing your doctor at first sign of a nail fungus, often a small white or yellow dot under the tip of the nail. If not treated, an infection can persist indefinitely.
When it comes down to it, the money doesn’t seem to be a huge objection for most people who contact him, Anderson says.
“Frankly, the oral medications can be hard on the liver, and that’s what a lot more patients are concerned about,” he says.
Contact Staff Writer Aimee Heckel at 303-473-1359 or email@example.com.
<a href="http://www.dailycamera.com/lifestyles/ci_17931091tag:news.google.com,2005:cluster=http://www.dailycamera.com/lifestyles/ci_17931091Wed, 27 Apr 2011 07:08:29 GMT 00:00″>Best foot forward