Laser treatment shows promise for toenail fungus

January 26, 2011 7:52:16 PM PST
A newly approved laser treatment promises to help with an unsightly problem that affects more than 35 million Americans.

Toenail fungus is not just unsightly; the fungus can cause permanent nail damage and lead to serious infections beyond the feet. Podiatrist Mark Wolpa says a new laser treatment, known as PinPointe, has become a popular alternative to oral or topical medications.

"They came up with a wavelength that's fungus sensitive if you will; it's able to penetrate through the nail into the nail bed and kills just the fungus," Wolpa said.

After thinning the nail, Wolpa applies the laser, which produces a slight warming sensation for the patient. The process takes about half an hour. Once the fungus is killed, Wolpa says the nail should continue growing naturally, replacing the yellowed portion with a clear nail.

"It's going to take a few months for the new nail to grow out," Wolpa said.

PinPointe recently became the first laser to gain FDA clearance for treating toenail fungus and several other companies have competing systems in the works. But while the lasers are gaining popularity, some doctors still have questions about the technology.

"I'm a pragmatist; I want to see data, I want to see years of side effects after something is approved by the FDA," podiatrist Arlene Hoffman said.

Hoffman is a podiatrist with California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco. She points out that the lasers have not yet completed rigorous testing and believes less expensive drug treatments for toenail fungus are effective, if combined with topical medication necessary to keep the fungus from returning.

"There is no easy treatment for toenail fungus; anybody who wants easy treatment or laser or pills is going to be disappoints, because it will return," Hoffman said.

Wolpa says he does tell patients up front that the fungus can return in some cases and also prescribes preventative care to help lessen the odds of refinfection.

And while the company is still conducting its first multi-center clinical trial, they say early results in smaller studies were extremely promising.

"It's very effective; it's never 100 percent, like anything, but I've been pleased," Wolpa said.

The single treatment averages about $1,000 and typically is not covered by insurance. It is considered safe, and without some of the side effects of oral medication.

Written and produced by Tim Didion


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