Many athletes suffer from the disease of fungus toenails due to the micro-trauma during sporting events, which is characterized by a progressive change in a toenail quality and color. The toenail looks yellow, has white marks on it and contains debris underneath. There is cracking, crumbling and thickening of the toenails. It also causes a foul order.

A fungus toenail wins the top spot in the `Ugly Toe Hall of Fame.'

People will do just about anything to get rid of it. In many cases, the thick fungus nail will cause shoe pressure and may disturb sleep with the pressure from the bed sheets. Worse yet, an ingrown, painful and possibly an infected toe may result.

The fungus can enter the nails through trauma, and it can spread by using wet towels or by walking on gym floors barefoot or shower rooms with contaminated surfaces.

Over time, it travels into the nail and lives and eats the nail. It has also been stated that it could be inherited. About six to eight percent of American adults battle toenail fungus -- although it's also been seen in teenagers. This stubborn condition is known as "onychomycosis." The fungus nails can spread to all 10 toenails, and then on to the skin, which can possibly impair one's ability to walk.

Below are some possible treatments:

In the past, there were topicals that were eight to 10 percent effective. Then an oral pill (LAMISEL) became available. But this can have side effects, causing liver damage, and more recently there's been reported loss of taste buds. Now we utilize the laser, which is 80 percent effective. It has an infrared laser beam which passes a grid-like pattern on an infrared laser over the toenail and down to the nail bed to kill the fungus. It also kills the bacteria which may be present, leaving the nail and surrounding tissue intact. This allows the fungus to be killed at the source.

We recommend treatment to all 10 nails, even if the fungus is only evident in a few nails, since this difficult condition can so easily recur. And best of all -- the treatment's painless!

Dr. Robert Weiss lives in Westport and has a sports-podiatry practice in Darien. He is a former marathon runner and was a member of the Medical Advisory Committee of the 1984 and the 1988 Olympic Trials.