Fungal infections make up about 50% of nail abnormalities. They usually appear as thickening and discoloration of the nail. The condition mostly targets toenails instead of fingernails, likely because they present a moist, warm environment for the pathogens.
Thousands of Americans deal with this problem every year. Up until recently, there have only been a few remedies for fungal toenails: prescription medications, antifungal nail lacquers, and other topical liquids. However, these require application for months or even years to show the desired effect.
Moreover, prescription medications can cause adverse side effects as well as interact with other drugs, making them unsuitable for some people. This is where red light therapy comes in.
Red light therapy is a newer approach that is deemed to be more useful than conventional remedies. It’s quick, painless, and safe with no side effects. The photoablation action of the red and near-infrared rays, combined with the natural healing pathways, can cause your toes and nails to look and feel better in no time.
This blog post reviews red light therapy for nail fungus, including its mechanism, effectiveness, and ways to incorporate it into your daily routine.
Understanding Fungal Nail Infections
Yeasts, molds, or dermatophytes typically cause toenail fungus. You can acquire these fungi from several sources, including coming into contact with someone who has a fungal infection, moist environments, and unsterilized nail equipment.
Once the fungus penetrates the nail, it damages the viable nail matrix and causes the nail bed to become thickened. The dermatophyte also invades the overlying nail plates, distorting and detaching it. Factors like prolonged exposure to moisture, poor blood circulation, and a compromised immune system can contribute to susceptibility.
A fungal nail infection can present itself in multiple ways. Depending on the infection agent, it can be classified into three main types:
Also known as tinea unguium, subungual onychomycosis is the most common kind that results from fungi called dermatophytes. The infection starts underneath the nail (distal subungual onychomycosis) or in the nail bed (proximal subungual onychomycosis). This type is distinguished by yellow discoloration that spreads from the edges of the nail to its center.
White Superficial Onychomycosis
White superficial onychomycosis is caused by a species called Fusarium or Acremonium. It only affects the top layer of the nail and is relatively easier to treat. The infection starts as white spots, which later become powdery and lead to crumbly nails.
A yeast called Candida causes this infection. The area around the nails becomes inflamed and swollen, and the nail may come off entirely. Candida onychomycosis tends to happen to nails that another infection or an injury has already damaged.
Symptoms may differ depending on the type and severity of the fungal nail infection. They usually start mild but get more serious if not treated accordingly:
- Nail discoloration; usually whitish-yellow color
- Malodor present
- Moisture in footwear
- Nail detachment, which is lifting
- Nail trauma
- Nail deformities (brittle or thickening) with debris under the nail
At first, your toenail fungus may seem easy to dismiss and be pretty minor in your eyes. But, without treatment, it can spread and cause permanent damage to your nail and foot. Plus, it gets more difficult to treat as it advances and doesn’t just go away on its own, no matter how much you may wish it away.
Conventional Nail Fungus Treatment
Several factors, like the severity of infection and infecting organisms, should be taken into account when treating nail fungus. The usual treatment includes oral or topical antifungal agents (fluconazole, itraconazole, and terbinafine) or a combo of both of these.
Lately, a spark in resistance to these medications has been observed, and various questions remain regarding their effectiveness and safety for the patients. These limitations have led to the investigation of red light therapy as a possible new means of treating onychomycosis.
Red Light Therapy for Nail Fungus
Using red light therapy for fungal infections has been well-studied. The relationship between the two is much clearer than before. Several studies have successfully proven the effectiveness of red light in killing fungi and similar microorganisms. So, how does red light therapy kill fungus?
Research shows that light within the red and near-infrared spectrum (between the wavelengths 660nm to 850nm) can directly destroy bacteria or fungi. The endogenous light-sensitive compounds already present in these microbes interact with red light in the fungal cells, activating free radicals that cause irreversible cellular damage. This way, the targeted fungal cells are killed by the light without posing any danger to human cells.
In many clinical cases, antifungal treatments by red light therapy are often applied with certain “photosensitizer” dyes that make the fungal cells more sensitive to light. This is known as Photodynamic Antimicrobial Therapy (PACT). This study looks into the usefulness of PACT in the management of onychomycosis.
Patients who experienced recurrent infections were observed to recover faster with red light therapy. They also showed better resistance to future infections and had healthier skin.
The Antimicrobial Effects of Red Light Therapy
Along with the direct destruction of fungal cells, red light therapy also supports the body in multiple ways to fight the disease. It does this through the following mechanisms :
The body’s natural response to invading fungus is acute, short-term inflammation. Red light therapy supports this process. However, any ongoing chronic inflammation can damage healthy mitochondrial cells and compromise the performance of the immune system. Red light therapy reduces chronic inflammation to support cells in their defense against fungal infections.
Red light acts as a vasodilator, which widens the diameter of vessels and increases blood circulation. Improved circulation allows the white blood cells to reach the affected area and help during the healing stage. This is particularly important for patients suffering from peripheral artery disease and for people with diabetes who are most vulnerable to fungal infections.
Increased Cellular Energy
Antifungal medications may kill the fungus, but they can’t prevent the infection from recurring. Red light therapy initiates a chain of actions that promote ATP synthesis. Thus, skin cells have more energy to protect themselves from the pathogens in case they return.
Increased Keratin Production
Nails are made up of a hardened protein called keratin. Red light stimulates the production of this protein and promotes nail growth in the nail matrix once the fungus is eradicated.
How to Use Red Light Therapy at Home
Red light therapy is a non-invasive, natural, and safe treatment that you can rely on for the cure and management of nail fungus. The procedure involves exposing your skin to light being emitted by RLT devices. Average treatment time is 10 to 15 minutes per day. Getting full-body coverage of the beneficial red light may maximize the effect, contributing to better onychomycosis management.
Always be sure that your feet are bare during treatment and that they receive sufficient light. Treating your feet with the red light just after a shower helps thoroughly kill treatment-resistant fungi and bacteria.
Depending on the frequency and duration of the treatment, it can take from weeks to months to start seeing results. Regular sessions can ensure effective treatment of the infection and reduce its probability of coming back later.
At Hooga, we deal with a range of high-irradiance RLT devices that deliver specific and concentrated wavelengths of red and near-infrared light to your body. For targeted applications such as nail fungus, the HG24 is a powerful compact light therapy device that you can take with you on the go.
For full-body applications, including fungal nail infections, neuropathy, or muscle recovery, the Pro1500 packs incredible power and extensive treatment area.
In summary, red light therapy proves to be an excellent holistic approach for treating toenail fungus and fungal infections. Whether pursuing overall well-being or addressing specific health concerns, it stands as a promising option, harnessing the power of light for better health and resilience.