Many people suffer from toenail fungus at some point during their lives. When it strikes, the most common response is usually to visit a doctor for treatment. This will often involve prescribing powerful toenail fungus medications – but could these cause liver damage?
Many believe prescription medications for toenail fungus have the potential to cause more harm than good. This isn’t helped by the fact that labels for such medicines recommend that people with liver problems avoid them. But what are the alternatives?
Fortunately, mild infections can be cleared up by over-the-counter medicines. These are less harmful to your body but can be equally effective at treating the problem.
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How Can Toenail Fungus Medications Cause Liver Damage?
When you take oral medication, it must be broken down by the liver once it enters your bloodstream. This goes for all medications – not just those designed to treat toenail fungus. Unsurprisingly this can put a lot of strain on your liver.
It is believed that toenail fungus medications can sometimes cause increased levels of liver enzymes in the serum. These are also known as aminotransferases. A notable increase in aminotransferases can cause some issues, including:
- Jaundice, where the skin turns yellow as the result of a build-up of toxins.
- Cell injury, where the building blocks of your body become damaged.
- An outbreak of rashes or allergic reactions.
- Autoantibody formation, where the body’s immune system begins attacking its own cells.
All of the above are either the cause or the result of acute liver damage. However, some people are more sensitive to the effects than others. But in any case, people with weak livers may consider avoiding such medications just in case.
The Symptoms of Toenail Fungus
Toenail fungus is a common, painful and uncomfortable ailment that can sometimes be difficult to treat. It is known medically as onychomycosis and manifests in some symptoms.
Fact: toenail fungus causes the big toenail to become thick and yellow, and in some cases to fall off.
Toenail fungus usually affects the big toes. The toenails become thick and turn a dark yellow color. Often, the nail will grow so thick that it cannot be cut with normal clippers. In severe or long-term cases, the big toenail may even fall off.
You may also see the toenail become flat or distorted in shape. It can also separate from the nail bed, which can be painful and unsightly. Some sufferers will also experience foul-smelling “toe jam” underneath the nail.
What Are The Main Causes of Toenail Fungus?
Toenail fungus is caused by a family of fungi called dermatophytes. Once the fungus has found its way onto your toenails, it feeds on the keratin protein that forms the nail. It can then reproduce, causing the spread of infection.
- Fact: 10% of Americans suffer from a toenail fungus infection. This statistic increases to 20% for the over-60s and 50% for the over-70s (according to Berkeley Wellness at the University of California).
Toenail fungus is such a common ailment because many different factors can make the condition worse. These include:
- Vascular problems, which prevent oxygen from reaching the extremities of the body.
- Regularly smoking cigarettes.
- Being sedentary and not getting the recommended 150 minutes of exercise every week (according to the Department of Health and Human Services)
- General poor foot hygiene.
- Sweaty feet as a result of exercising without changing socks, or being in a damp environment.
- A suppressed or weakened immune system.
- Direct trauma or impact to the toes.
- A family history of toenail fungus and other genetic factors.
Toenail Fungus Can Be an Issue for the Elderly
It is no coincidence that toenail fungus is so much more prevalent in older people. As we get older, our toenails grow more slowly. They also become much thicker than when we are young. These both make infection more likely.
This is a problem in itself, but it is made worse when we consider the potential for toenail fungus medicines to damage the liver. Our organs naturally become weaker as we grow older, and so such medicines can cause even more harm. Older people are also more likely to develop other illnesses that can affect their general health.
This means that for the elderly, an over-the-counter medicine may be preferable to treat toenail fungus.
Diabetes Can Exacerbate Toenail Fungus
Diabetes can also make toenail fungus worse, or at least more frequent. This is because diabetes leads to poor blood circulation to the hands and feet. This poor circulation, in turn, causes minor nerve damage.
With damaged nerves, you are less likely to notice pain or discomfort in your toes. As such, the toenail fungus can develop more quickly without your knowledge. And once it is present it can be difficult to get rid of without medicines.
People with diabetes should be especially vigilant when checking their toes for fungal infection. If left untreated, the infected nail can cause cuts. These cuts can then become infected, causing more discomfort and potentially serious problems.
Unfortunately, long-term diabetics with toenail infections could even risk amputation if left untreated. Although this is an extreme example, the threat is very real. Therefore, it pays to treat nail fungus with medication as soon as is possible.
What Happens if Toenail Fungus Goes Untreated?
Toenail fungus does not clear itself up. If left to its own devices, it can become progressively more painful and unsightly. The nail eventually lifts off the nail bed and can detach completely.
Another risk is that the nail becomes jagged or grows into the surrounding skin. This can cause pain and discomfort and eventually cut into the toes. These open wounds become a hotbed for potential infections.
This is why it is advisable to treat toenail fungus with medication before the problem becomes too serious. If you are worried about risking liver damage, you could consider an effective over-the-counter toenail fungus medicine instead.