35 million Americans have fungal nail infection underneath their toenails

An estimated 35 million Americans have an active, live infection known as onychomycosis (fungal nail infection) underneath their toenails, but 90 percent of them don't even recognize the name of the infection, according to a new survey conducted by Roper Public Affairs.

Further, more than half (57%) of those surveyed who have the condition believe that over-the-counter (OTC) medications will treat the symptoms adequately, despite the fact that no over- the-counter treatment has been proven to effectively treat the infection, and no OTC treatment is approved for this use.

The survey, conducted in May 2004, which included more than 900 adults, also revealed that nearly nine in 10 consumers age 35 and older who have symptoms of fungal nail infection (87%) recognize that changes in their toenails indicate a health problem, but nearly one-fourth (24%) have waited a year or more before doing anything about it and nearly one-third (32%) say they have not sought treatment yet. The condition also has a psychological and emotional impact: nearly two-thirds (61%) of those with onychomycosis would feel better about themselves if they had healthy looking nails. More striking is that seven of ten (70%) of adults surveyed say their doctor has never discussed proper foot care with them.

"From this survey, we see that people delay or don't seek treatment for onychomycosis. However, left untreated nail fungal infection will not go away and may become worse, painful, or spread to other nails," said Warren Joseph, DPM, attending podiatrist at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Coatesville, Pennsylvania and an expert in lower extremity infectious diseases. "Upon noticing changes in nail color or thickness, people should see a physician and ask for treatment -- only prescription medication is proven to effectively treat onychomycosis."

The condition runs in families and some people are predisposed to infection. Additionally, the fungus that primarily causes onychomycosis can spread from foot to foot on the floors of showers and locker rooms. People with onychomycosis may unknowingly spread the fungus to others, due to behaviors such as walking barefoot -- a common practice among survey respondents. Indeed a vast majority (76%) walk barefoot fairly frequently around their home, and over 51 percent walk barefoot when taking a shower at a club, gym or other public places.

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