Harvard Women's Health Watch

By the way, doctor: Does laser treatment work for toenail fungus?

Q. I've tried a lot of things for a fungal infection in one of my toenails, but it just won't go away. What do you know about a new treatment that uses laser?

A. Two lasers using different types of laser energy have attracted attention as treatments for fungal infection of the toenails, a condition called onychomycosis (pronounced oh-nee-koh-my-KOH-sis), which can also affect the fingernails: Noveon and the PathoLase PinPointe FootLaser. The theory is that a precisely directed laser can eliminate the fungus without harming the surrounding nail tissue. The underlying technologies are already in use for other conditions, including cataract surgery, dental work, and hair removal. Although there is some laboratory evidence that lasers can squelch fungal organisms, clinical studies in humans thus far are limited.

In 2008, the company that makes Noveon (Nomir Medical Technologies) announced the results of a study involving 39 toenails. After four treatments, about half of the toenails no longer had active fungal infection and 76% showed improvement. The findings are difficult to evaluate, because they were presented at a scientific meeting and published in the meeting abstracts but have not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal. There is no study comparing laser to other widely used treatments, and its long-term effects are unknown. As we go to press, neither of the lasers has received FDA approval for the treatment of toenail fungus.

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