In foot treatment, trees appear to have upper hand

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Here is a possible solution for some cases of onychomycosis.

In the first place folks will want to know what onychomycosis is. It is a fungal infection of the nails.

It is pronounced o-knee-ko-my-ko-sis. The medical term for this is tinea unguim. It is more common on toenails and in people over 60 years of age. It is rare in children.

Only about 50 percent of discolored nails are due to fungus. Some of the other conditions are psoriasis, trauma, etc.

If one seeks medical attention for the problem the medical provider may want to confirm the diagnosis using a solution of potassium hydroxide, or a culture or biopsy.

Since the purpose of this article is to present an alternative treatment other than pills or surgery there will only be a short discussion of accepted medical treatments. Also it is not the intent to advise people to avoid medical treatment nor use this treatment first.

There are several different antifungal medications available that work. Some of them can adversely affect other medications a person may be taking. Some require regular blood tests to be sure the blood or liver has not been injured. The treatment usually lasts 12 weeks and can be expensive what with repeated visits to the provider, lab tests, and the cost of the medications. At this point I have no idea how much of this would be covered by Medicare or other insurance.

It is important that folks feel assured that if they go the medication route it can be quite effective and serious adverse reactions are rare. No one knows for sure what the relapse rate is. There are some cases in which the provider may recommend surgical removal of the nails but this is not very common.

Some 10 or more years ago it was reported that Vick’s Vaporub could cure fungus infection of the nails. Since by my self-diagnosis that was what I had, I started using it. For a number of years it did a pretty good job but lately it has not seemed to help.

Incidentally a recent study has shown that many doctors treat themselves and/or their families although the official stance of the American Medical Association is to frown on this practice.

About three months ago a friend of mine who also has a big interest in preventive medicine and simple remedies and who writes articles about these things sent me one of her articles describing the use of tea tree oil for fungal infection of the nails. That called for further research on my part.

Since tea tree oil comes from a tree — melaleuca alternifolia — no pharmaceutical company can get a patent on it. Consequently there has not been millions of dollars spent on developing and doing the usual type of research on it to determine efficacy and toxicity.

When the famous explorer and navigator James Cook landed on the shore of eastern Australia about 1770 the aborigines introduced him to the tea tree claiming it had healing properties. In more modern times there has been about 80 years of anecdotal evidence showing real benefits.

The Australians have done some scientific studies which show that tea tree oil has antiviral, antifungal, antibacterial, and possibly antiprotozoal properties.

In the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology of May 2006 there is a review of the toxicity of the oil. It concludes that adverse events are minor, self-limiting and occasional. It can be toxic if ingested in higher doses, and can cause skin irritation at higher concentrations. It should be kept away from children and animals.

Tea trea oil was described as being beneficial when applied to fever blisters caused by herpes. This work was done in Germany and reported in the journal Pharmazie in April 2001.

With the preceding information at hand I decided to try it on myself. I purchased tea tree ointment at Andy’s Market here in College Place. Within no more than one month I noticed significant improvement in the appearance of the little toenails. Improvement has been seen on the great toenails but it has been slower to show.

After I started using it a female relative informed me her doctor had wanted to start her on one of the antifugal pills. When she told him she didn’t want to take the pills he suggested the tree oil. She has used the liquid for approximately 10 years with good success. Currently she applies it with a Q-tip once or twice week.

It is unknown to me whether it is available anywhere else in the Walla Walla Valley. People in other localities could probably find it at health food shops.

Now for a disclaimer: I have no financial interest in Andy’s Market but I do enjoy shopping there.

Dr. Don Casebolt of College Place is a retired physician who is passionate about preventive medicine. He spent four years as a medical officer in the U.S. Navy, the last 2 1/2 years as a flight surgeon. He also worked on the Navajo Reservation for 22 years.

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