Become a Member

Get access to more than 30 brands, premium video, exclusive content, events, mapping, and more.

Already have an account? Sign In

Become a Member

Get access to more than 30 brands, premium video, exclusive content, events, mapping, and more.

Already have an account? Sign In

Brands

Injuries and Medical Advice

Dr. J Attacks Fungal Toenails

Climbers are prone to toenail fungus because we continually cram our feet into tight, sweaty shoes where it can run amok.

Lock Icon

Become a member to unlock this story and receive other great perks.

Already have an Outside Account? Sign in

Outside+ Logo

All-Access
Intro Offer
$3.99 / month*

  • A $500 value with 25+ benefits including:
  • Access to all member-only content on all 17 publications in the Outside network like Rock and Ice, Climbing, Outside, Backpacker, Trail Runner and more
  • Annual subscription to Climbing magazine.
  • Annual gear guides for climbing, camping, skiing, cycling, and more
  • Gaia GPS Premium with hundreds of maps and global trail recommendations, a $39.99 value
  • Outside Learn, our new online education hub loaded with more than 2,000 videos across 450 lessons including 6 Weeks to Stronger Fingers and Strength Training for Injury Prevention
  • Premium access to Outside TV and 1,000+ hours of exclusive shows
  • Annual subscription to Outside magazine
Join Outside+

*Outside memberships are billed annually. Print subscriptions available to U.S. residents only. You may cancel your membership at anytime, but no refunds will be issued for payments already made. Upon cancellation, you will have access to your membership through the end of your paid year. More Details

I have a really bad case of toenail fungus brought on by 30 years of too-tight climbing shoes. Any advice on nuking fungus?

JJ/Carbondale, Colorado

Does your partner pull awaywhen your feet touch in bed? I feel sad for you. You can’t tell someone you have a fungus and expect sympathy. They will cringe
and possibly don some form of latex.

I don’t often see toe fungus in my office, but rather at the crag when a climber is trying to get that crustacean into a shoe.

The most common culprit is a group of fungi known as dermatophytes. Climbers are prone to the disease more so than the normal population because we continually
cram our feet into tight, sweaty shoes where the fungus can run amok. Typically, the nail will thicken and become crusty. It may change color and stink
like the breath of a Balinese dog.

Being the vain society we are, we have an array of tonics and tinctures to return you to the love shack with the lights on.

There are options such as laser therapy for the financially cavalier, or cheaper alternatives such as smearing the toenail with Vicks VapoRub (I shit you
not, it’s proven to be quite effective). Other modalities include medications (with the usual side effects that may kill you), nail paint and aggressive
debridement in combination with all of the above.

Unfortunately, very few people actually recover at all. Not because even the most hippie of treatments—like thyme oil—won’t work, but because
the fungus is as recalcitrant as an African warlord. No matter what treatment you employ, none are quick—six to 12 months is a best-case scenario.

Patients rarely see the program to its end and the fungus, nestled into a defensive anatomical hidey-hole, lives on.

This article was published in Rock and Ice No. 212 (September 2013).