Case Studies

Stop Nail Fungus in its Tracks


| May/June 2005



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It all started with a little itch between my toes,” Eric told me. “The next thing I knew, some of my big toenail started turning yellow, and yesterday I stubbed it badly and that really hurt.” Eric and I were sitting in a treatment room in my clinic and he was showing me his foot. It looked clean and well-scrubbed, but the telltale signs of Tinea unguium (nail fungus) were unmis- takable. Part of the nail was yellowish-brown, thickened, distorted and grooved. Eric moved it back and forth to demonstrate.

“I tried an over-the-counter cream that was supposed to help, but after two months, I really haven’t seen any changes,” he said. “My doctor prescribed a stronger cream, but still nothing. She told me about an oral medication that is effective about 50 to 60 percent of the time, but I didn’t like the sound of the possible side effects.”

Eric’s problem was a fairly familiar scenario in my clinic over the years. Some people are known to be more susceptible to fungal infections than others, due to genetic predisposition. This makes treating the infections especially difficult for some patients. Athlete’s foot also is caused by a fungal infection from another similar fungus, and the two are often associated so that untreated athlete’s foot can increase the risk of toenail fungus.

Tough to Treat

Nail fungus is not easy to treat because the fungus gets under the tough nail, and topical applications of medicated creams or oils can’t penetrate. I’ve had patients who had their nail removed and then treated with an antifungal preparation until the nail grew back. This was sometimes effective, but the nail can become reinfected, and who wants to have their nail removed? Sounds like a really nasty stubbed toe could happen without the nail’s protection.

In Chinese medicine, we always try to look at the whole individual, not just their individual symptoms. As I reviewed Eric’s tongue and pulse signs, a clear pattern emerged. His red tongue with a yellow coating meant excess heat pathogen. This is thought to increase the risk of any kind of infection. Some signs of Spleen qi deficiency also were present. This meant his immune function might not be optimal. With toenail fungus, one needs all the help possible, from the inside and outside.

Fabulous Foot Hygiene

First of all, Eric and I talked about foot hygiene. Here is a list of the basics.





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