A reader of the New York Times posed the question to their “Ask Well” blog: “Is there any health risk to allowing a toenail fungus to exist untreated over the long term? I have avoided using oral drugs for chronic toenail fungus because I don’t want to risk liver damage. “
Dr. Boni Elewski a professor of Dermatology at the University of Alabama properly notes that “fungal infections of the nail can be difficult to treat. As a previous Ask Well column noted, plenty of remedies exist, but none are certain. And the one considered most effective, the drug Lamisil, is associated with rare cases of liver damage”.
She notes that “it is no surprise that some people would consider covering up their feet and turning a blind eye to the problem.”
Now in rare cases the fungus in the fungal toenails creates cracks and openings in the skin where bacteria can sneak in and cause infections. For people who are diabetic or who have nerve damage and poor circulation this can cause an amputation!
In most cases, if ignored fungal toenails just become thick, brittle and ugly. Over the years the nails become very disgusting looking and sometimes have an odor. In most cases this doesn’t have a big effect on your health, except here’s what I see as a practitioner (not a professor):
People with ugly fungal toenails are ashamed of their feet and don’t go outside in the summer because they ashamed to wear open sandals and closed shoes are too hot. This stupid infection is socially isolating and prevents people from enjoying outdoor activities with sandals!
I can’t tell you how many people come in for treatment of fungal toenails because their spouse or significant other is repelled by their feet!
Are fungal infected toenails a matter of life or death – of course not! But having clean, attractive infection free toenails certainly improves our quality of life!