Dr. M.J. Bazos, Patient Handout

About Your Diagnosis
Tinea unguium is a fungal infection of the nails. It most commonly affects the toenails, rarely the fingernails. Tinea of the toenail occurs most often in patients with recurrent attacks of tinea of the feet (athlete’s foot). It is seen most often in the elderly but can be seen in young adults. The diagnosis is usually made by inspection, but may be confirmed by obtaining a culture of the infected toenail or by examining it under a microscope. Tinea unguium is not life threatening unless a serious secondary infection occurs in patients such as diabetics. Tinea unguium is difficult to eliminate even with prescription medication, and many patients learn to “live” with this disease.

Living With Your Diagnosis
Patients with tinea unguium have thickened and deformed or distorted toenails. The nail frequently begins to detach at the end or side. Secondary infection can occur, especially with poorly fitting shoes. Secondary infection requires treatment with prescription antibiotics.

Tinea of the fingernails can frequently be cured with an extended course of medications taken by mouth. Take these for as long as your doctor has prescribed. Occasionally these medications cause changes in the liver; therefore your doctor may request periodic laboratory tests and close follow-up. Tinea of the toenails is usually not curable, and therefore medications by mouth are usually not used. Trimming of thick nails can provide relief of discomfort. This should be done under the direction of your physician. If you are diabetic or have other medical diseases associated with poor circulation, consult your doctor before trimming your toenails.

The DOs
• Inspect your feet daily. Report any signs of infection such as swelling or drainage to your doctor.
• Wash your feet daily and keep them clean and dry.
• Wear cotton socks that absorb sweat.

The DON’Ts
• Don’t share nail-trimming instruments.
• Don’t wear tight-fitting shoes.

When to Call Your Doctor
• If pus drainage, swelling, or redness occurs in the area of the nail.
• If the nail becomes painful to touch.