A Cautionary Tale of a Big Toe and Fungus...

I can hear all of you going “Eeeeww!” But there is an important message attached to this story, and I hope you will learn from my mistakes.

Two years ago, I noticed that the nail on my left big toe seemed flaky. If you’ve never experienced this, it’s a frequent indicator of a fungal infection. Now, not only had I just read an article about laser treatments for toe fungus, but two of my clients had recently had sessions with their podiatrists to get rid of fungus on several nails. So, off I went to the doctor’s office to see, first of all, if I did actually have a fungus on or under my nail and, if so, whether the laser treatment might work for me.

After looking at my feet and particularly my left big toe, my podiatrist said “yes” to my questions: In her professional opinion, I did have a fungus, one she felt would respond well to the laser treatment because it wasn’t a bad case. She said I would see results with just one session.

So I returned to her office the following week and had my first laser treatment. The technician – a registered nurse – gave me goggles to protect my eyes, then systematically covered each toe with the laser beam in a linear pattern. (Every toe has to be treated, regardless of how many are affected with fungus.) It got a little uncomfortable when the laser beam reached the nail quick, but apart from that the treatment was painless.

I then went home and threw out my socks, bath mat and slippers. I bleached the tub and changed out the towels. I also purchased a pair of electric shoe inserts that sterilize the inside of each shoe, particularly the toe box. I even bought a few pairs of new shoes—any excuse!!

Then…I waited. I wore no polish for a year, applied an antifungal treatment daily and had regular pedicures to keep the nails short.

One year later, I was back in the podiatrist’s office. We both came to the same conclusion: the results had been minimal. My toenail was still flaky on one side, indicating the fungus had not cleared. The podiatrist explained that there are different kinds of fungus and some are very hard to treat. So I received a second laser treatment. I also ordered another topical treatment from a compounding pharmacy. By this time I had spent about $2,000.

Far from helping, it seemed the additional treatment only made things worse. The flakiness spread over the whole nail, which then began to lift. As you can imagine, I was very frustrated! And so, during a visit to my dermatologist a month later, I asked him if he treated toe fungus. He told me it was a large part of his business. He looked at my toes and said he would…take a culture! It was an ah-ha moment.

Two weeks later, I received the results. All the tests came back clear; I did not have fungus at all. I had simply damaged my nail – so easy to do during exercise and when wearing  glamorous shoes – and the only “treatment” needed was to cut the toenail short and leave it alone to recover. I could even wear toe polish if I chose.

So what are the lessons? First, if you suspect you have a toe fungus, a culture should be taken on your first visit to the podiatrist’s or dermatologist’s office. In a couple of weeks, either you and your doctor will know what type of fungus you are up against, or the test will have ruled out a fungal infection, so you can begin looking for other causes and treatments. Had this been done, I’d have been able to save a great deal of time and money.

Second, just because you’ve read about a treatment you think is the answer for your problem, don’t ask for it first thing. It’s possible that, had I not gone to my podiatrist with my mind “settled” on a laser treatment, she would have explored other, less costly treatments first. And perhaps, seeing that those treatments weren’t working (on the fungal infection I didn’t have), we’d have come to the right conclusion.

And third… never be afraid to seek a second opinion!

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