A risk-benefit assessment of the newer oral antifungal agents used to treat onychomycosis

Drug Saf. 2000 Jan;22(1):33-52. doi: 10.2165/00002018-200022010-00004.


The newer antifungal agents itraconazole, terbinafine and fluconazole have become available to treat onychomycosis over the last 10 years. During this time period these agents have superseded griseofulvin as the agent of choice for onychomycosis. Unlike griseofulvin, the new agents have a broad spectrum of action that includes dermatophytes, Candida species and nondermatophyte moulds. Each of the 3 oral antifungal agents, terbinafine, itraconazole and fluconazole, is effective against dermatophytes with relatively fewer data being available for the treatment of Candida species and nondermatophyte moulds. Itraconazole is effective against Candida onychomycosis. Terbinafine may be more effective against C. parapsilosis compared with C. albicans; furthermore with Candida species a higher dose of terbinafine or a longer duration of therapy may be required compared with the regimen for dermatophytes. The least amount of experience in treating onychomycosis is with fluconazole. Griseofulvin is not effective against Candida species or the nondermatophyte moulds. The main use of griseo-fulvin currently is to treat tinea capitis. Ketoconazole may be used by some to treat tinea versicolor with the dosage regimens being short and requiring the use of only a few doses. The preferred regimens for the 3 oral antimycotic agents are as follows: itraconazole - pulse therapy with the drug being administered for 1 week with 3 weeks off treatment between successive pulses; terbinafine - continuous once daily therapy; and fluconazole - once weekly treatment. The regimen for the treatment of dermatophyte onychomycosis is: itraconazole - 200mg twice daily for I week per month x 3 pulses; terbinafine - 250 mg/day for 12 weeks; or, fluconazole - 150 mg/wk until the abnormal-appearing nail plate has grown out, typically over a period of 9 to 18 months. For the 3 oral antifungal agents the more common adverse reactions pertain to the following systems, gastrointestinal (for example, nausea, gastrointestinal distress, diarrhoea, abdominal pain), cutaneous eruption, and CNS (for example, headache and malaise). Each of the new antifungal agents is more cost-effective than griseofulvin for the treatment of onychomycosis and is associated with high compliance, in part because of the shorter duration of therapy. The newer antifungal agents are generally well tolerated with drug interactions that are usually predictable.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Oral
  • Antifungal Agents / adverse effects*
  • Antifungal Agents / therapeutic use
  • Cost-Benefit Analysis
  • Drug Interactions
  • Humans
  • Onychomycosis / drug therapy*
  • Recurrence
  • Risk


  • Antifungal Agents