Meghan Rafferty, a 36-year-old from New York City, is one of millions of Americans who lives with toe fungus.
Looking at her toenails, Rafferty said, "It's discolored, it's yellow. It's thick. Um, it's crooked, it just looks, it looks dead, like dead nails."
Not only is toe fungus ugly and embarrassing, it's also easy to catch, as it thrives in wet environments such as nail salons and locker rooms. And people will do just about anything to hide it. Podiatrist Paul Greenberg said he has female patients who say their husbands haven't seen their feet in 25 years.
"In yoga, I would be embarrassed," Rafferty said. "I go to the nail salon, and just like they put tips on your fingernails, I would get tips on my toenails."
Once the fungus gets under a toenail, it's difficult to treat. Topical solutions don't always work and oral medications carry a risk of side effects and can be hard on the body.
Rafferty is trying a promising new laser procedure to treat toenail fungus.
"The laser beam travels through the nail to the level of the nail fungus and kills the fungus instantly," said Gary Evans, a New York City podiatrist.
The Food and Drug Administration cleared the use of PathoLase Inc.'s PinPointe FootLaser system, which has been available in the United States since September 2008. Evans has been using it for a few months and says it's exciting because it's painless and side-effect free.
As Evans moved the laser over the nail, Rafferty said she didn't feel anything.
"We have to go in certain patterns to make sure we get every little millimeter of the nail plate," Evans said.
The procedure takes less than a half hour and, while results aren't immediate, the toenail will grow out normally in nine to 12 months, in most cases.
PathoLase said its laser is 88 percent effective, which it claims is better than anything else on the market.
Fungus-free feet will cost you, though. The treatment goes for about $1,200 and isn't covered by insurance.
Rafferty is willing to pay for normal-looking toes. "I'm just really excited to see what the results are. This is fantastic," she said.
How to Avoid Toe Fungus
Fungus can enter the nail through a cuticle trimming, through an injury near the nail or even a crack on the surface of the skin near the nail.
Killing the nail fungus does not mean you will not get it again. What you need to do is practice good foot hygiene, which, as simple as it sounds, is really tough for some people.
Avoid moist, wet environments, meaning public showers, pools and locker rooms. You've got to be careful when you go to the beach, and even when you go to a friend's apartment.
Be careful when you go for a pedicure. The pedicurist should avoid trimming the cuticles too short, which creates more opportunities for fungus to infect the nail.
Pay attention to your own apartment and home. You have to clean out your shower stall and check that bath mat you've been stepping on for the past few months -- it can be infested with fungus.
And check your shoes. Fungus could be alive and well in those favorite sneakers you've been wearing for years.