A nail fungal infection occurs when spore-producing organisms called fungi infect one or more fingernails or toenails. Nail fungus often begins as a small yellow or white spot under a nail tip. As it grows, the fungus spreads deeper into the fingernail or toenail, causing the nail to thicken, discolor, or crumble around the edges. Not only is nail fungus unattractive, but it can also be very painful.
Nail fungus is often hard to treat, and repeat infections are common. Over-the-counter medications, such as topical antifungal ointments and creams, are usually ineffective for treating nail fungal infections. Nail fungus usually requires a visit to the doctor or dermatologist, who typically prescribe oral medications to treat nail fungal infections. They may also prescribe a topical medication or lacquer, a type of antifungal nail polish. Surgery, involving nail removal, is sometimes necessary for severe cases or extremely painful infections.
While prescription medication is the conventional treatment for fungal infections, some doctors offer laser nail fungus treatment. Also known as photodynamic therapy, laser treatment uses beams of intense light to irradiate the nail after it is treated with an acid. Laser nail fungus treatment is cutting-edge technology that may not be available everywhere.
Scientists and doctors continually research new ways to apply laser technology to treat disease or medical conditions. Laser eye surgery is probably the best-known application of lasers in medical care. The fields of dentistry and dermatology also use lasers in many treatment procedures. More doctors today are using lasers to treat nail fungus.
The concept of treating nail fungus with lasers is not a new one. Since the 1980s, researchers have used lasers to create holes or channels in the nail to give topical medications better access to fungus. The initial technology was expensive, and the process did not really improve the effectiveness of topical medications.
As laser technology evolved, scientists and doctors adopted a better approach to laser nail fungus treatment. Lasers are more widely available to doctors and surgeons today, and some dermatologists now use lasers to treat their patients’ nail infections.
Lasers, or concentrated beams of light, can completely destroy certain biological structures. Depending on the light’s wavelength, some structures can actually be targeted for destruction. This is good news for patients with painful fungal infections on their fingernails and toenails. Instead of creating tunnels in the nail to allow medication to kill fungus, doctors can now focus laser light directly on the fungus itself. The laser energy kills the fungus, while leaving the nail and surrounding skin intact.
While the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not yet approved laser systems specifically for the treatment of nail fungus, it has cleared similar devices to treat other diseases and medical conditions. The FDA has also given clearance to some companies to market these devices for dermatological surgeries and some cosmetic procedures. Clinical trials are currently underway to study the effectiveness of laser nail fungus treatment. So far, the results have been promising.
At a cost of $1,000 to $2,500 per treament, laser nail fungus treatment is not cheap. And since it is considered cosmetic surgery, health insurance will not cover the cost for this procedure. Patients should be aware that laser treatment for nail fungus is an out-of-pocket expense, and they should weigh this expense against the probably outcome before choosing this treatment method.