Drugs & Aging

, Volume 16, Issue 6, pp 397–407 | Cite as

Onychomycosis in the Elderly

  • Aditya K. Gupta
Disease Management


Onychomycosis is found more frequently in the elderly, and in more males than females. Onychomycosis of the toes is usually caused by dermatophytes, most commonly Trichophyton rubrum and T. mentagrophytes. The most common clinical presentations are distal and lateral subungual onychomycosis (which usually affects the great/first toe) and white superficial onychomycosis (which generally involves the third/fourth toes). Only about 50% of all abnormal-appearing nails are due to onychomycosis. In the remainder, trauma to the nail, psoriasis and conditions such as lichen planus should be considered in the differential diagnosis. Therefore, the clinical impression of onychomycosis should be confirmed by mycological examination, whenever possible.

The management of onychomycosis may include no therapy, palliative treatment with mechanical or chemical debridement, topical antifungal therapy, oral antifungal agents or a combination of treatment modalities. In the US, the only new oral agents approved for treatment of onychomycosis are terbinafine and itraconazole. Fluconazole is approved for onychomycosis in some other countries. Ciclopirox nail lacquer has recently been approved in the US for the treatment of onychomycosis. In some other countries topical agents such as amorolfine are also used. Griseofulvin and ketoconazole are no longer preferred for the treatment of onychomycosis.

The new oral antifungal agents are effective and well tolerated in the elderly. Patient selection should be based on the history (including systems review and medication record), examination and baseline monitoring, if indicated. Laboratory monitoring during therapy for onychomycosis varies among physicians. A combination of removal of the diseased nail plate or local measures and oral antifungal therapy may be optimal in certain instances, e.g. when lateral onychomycosis or dermatophytoma are present. For dermatophyte toe onychomycosis the recommended duration of therapy with terbinafine is 250 mg/day for 12 weeks. For itraconazole (pulse) the regimen is 200mg twice daily for 1 week on, 3 weeks off, repeated for 3 consecutive pulses and with fluconazole the regimen is 150 to 300mg once weekly given for a usual range of 6 to 12 months or until the nail plate has grown out. In some instances, if extra therapy is required, one suggestion is that 4 weeks of terbinafine or an extra pulse of itraconazole are given between months 6 and 9 from the start of therapy. Once cure has been achieved, it is important to counsel patients on the strategies of reducing recurrence of disease.


Fluconazole Itraconazole Terbinafine Nail Plate Tinea Pedis 
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© Adis International Limited 2000

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Division of Dermatology, Department of Medicine, Sunnybrook and Women’s College Health Sciences Center (Sunnybrook site)University of TorontoTorontoCanada

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