How to get rid of a bad toenail fungus infection. Medical treatments, topical anti-fungal medications as well as home remedies to treat a toenail fungal infection.
Toenail fungus is a chronic and potentially contagious problem that affects millions of people worldwide. It can have a significant impact on your social life, particularly if the fungus spreads to your fingernails – a frequent occurrence.
There are several different types of toenail fungus and as such, the symptoms, progression and treatment can vary slightly depending upon the precise ailment that’s infecting the nail bed. One of the most common ailments is called Onychomycosis; there are four different sub-types of this condition. Onychomycosis accounts for a significant portion of all nail infections, with up to eight percent of all adults affected!
Nail fungus often begins as a small spot of white, yellow or green that appears under the nail, typically near the edge. This is often paired with an array of other symptoms that worsen as the infection spreads deeper below the nail. Ultimately, the fungus can affect the entire nail, including the nail bed – the area where the new nail grows from; this causes all new nail growth to be infected as well.
Symptoms of toenail fungus include:
- A white, yellow or green patch of discoloration under the nail, typically near the edge;
- Painful or sore nails;
- Thickened nails;
- Discoloration, often yellow, green or black;
- Crumbling at the edges;
- Rough, abnormal nail surface texture;
- Foul odor;
- Distorted nail shape;
- Scaly skin around the nail;
- Inflammation, redness and swelling under and around the nail; and
- The nail may separate or lift from the nail bed.
Main Causes For Toenail Fungus
Onychomycosis can be caused by several different types of fungus, including dermatophytes, candida (better known as the yeast that causes yeast infections) and non-dermatophytic varieties of mold.
Toenail fungus is often a chronic problem. Once you develop toenail fungus on one nail, it easily spreads to other nails due to direct contact between the skin of the toes and nails. It can also spread via nail files and clippers, so it’s essential to use separate clippers and nail files on infected nails.
Many people who develop nail fungus get it from contaminated pedicure equipment, including files, clippers and other equipments. In fact, nail fungus can spread among a nail salon’s clients if they re-use files and other equipment, without disinfecting properly.
Individuals who have reduced circulation in the arms and legs – like diabetics and the elderly – are more prone to developing nail fungus.
Also, individuals who suffer from a compromised immune system are more likely to get toenail fungus. In fact, this is one reason why elderly individuals tend to be more prone to developing this condition; senior citizens often have a weaker immune system, which means the nail’s natural defenses against fungal infections are decreased.
Individuals who are on immune suppressant medications, such as individuals with cancer, auto-immune disorders and organ transplant patients, are more prone to toenail fungus. It’s also more common in individuals suffering from psoriasis.
In addition, individuals who are on antibiotics – particularly long courses of antibiotics – are more likely to develop fungal infections, as the antibiotics kill off the body’s bacteria, including beneficial bacteria that serves to keep fungus in check.
Ways To Get Rid of Toenail Fungus
Treating toenail fungus is difficult for several reasons. In advanced cases, the primary difficulty involves the fact that the fungal infection impacts the entire nail and it often colonizes the nail bed, located at the base of the nail – the area where new nail grows. In order for the treatment to be successful, an entirely new toenail must grow in while you’re undergoing treatment. This can take up to a year, depending on the individual. If any infected nail remains when you cease treatment, it won’t be successful and the toenail fungus will recur once you cease treatment.
There are a few different treatments that can be effective in eradicating nail fungus, though most methods require continual treatment for a course of several weeks. For most treatment methods, the anti-fungal treatment must continue as the nail grows out in order to achieve full, lasting treatment. The long-lasting and continual nature of treatment – required for up to a year in cases where the entire nail is infected – means that it’s difficult for many people to follow through, so the condition often recurs.
The following is a list of ways to get rid of fungal infections:
- Systemic anti-fungal medications, available in pill form, are one of the most common and effective treatment approaches. Commonplace medications include clotrimazole, terbinafine and itraconazole.
- Topical anti-fungal medications can be painted onto the infected toenails or applied as a cream or ointment. This topical approach is often paired with systemic anti-fungal drugs. The topical medication is typically painted or rubbed onto the nail twice daily until the entire nail grows out and it’s replaced by healthy nail – a process that can take up to a year. Commonplace topical drugs include amorolfine, butenafine and ciclopirox, also called ciclopiroxolamine.
- Laser treatments, including the Pinpointe-type laser therapy, Fox Diode laser therapy and Noveon-type laser treatment, have been proven to be effective in treating toenail fungus infections by heating and killing fungi, thereby disrupting the infection.
- Surgical debridement involves surgical removal of the infected nail. In cases where only a portion of the nail is affected, just a portion will be removed by your podiatrist.
- Surgical destruction of the nail matrix – the base of the nail which is responsible for growing new nail – is a last measure in chronic, recurring cases of nail fungus. This prevents the nail from growing back, so it’s typically only used in severe cases where the individual’s health is at risk due to chronic infection and pain.
- Tea tree oil can be applied to unpolished nails twice daily. This oil has natural antimicrobial properties, though scientific studies have not verified its efficacy.
- Grapefruit seed extract can be applied to unpolished nails twice daily. This extract has natural antimicrobial properties and some believe it’s effective in treating nail fungus. Scientific studies have not yet verified its efficacy.
- Snakeroot leaf extract can be applied to unpolished nails twice daily. Studies have found it’s a bit less effective than ciclopirox and about equally effective as ketaconazole, making it a suitable alternative treatment.
- Thyme oil and its main properties, including thymol, have been found to be effective in treating toenail fungus when applied twice daily.
- Anecdotal evidence shows that pure orange oil (10%) has been found to be effective when applied twice daily, immediately after applying a blend of half rubbing alcohol and half vinegar.
- Vicks Vapor Rub is said to be an effective nail fungus treatment when applied daily before putting on your socks. There is anecdotal evidence for its efficacy, but there have been no scientific studies performed on this treatment.
- Soak your feet in a water and vinegar solution nightly for six months or until the fungus clears. This will lower the pH of your toenails, thereby making it difficult for the fungus to thrive.
- Take vitamins and supplements that are designed to improve your immune system. This gives your body the power to strike back against the fungus.
- Massage your hands and feet twice daily to improve circulation. Improved circulation makes it easier for your body to combat the fungus.
- In addition, clip off as much infected nail as possible as often as possible. Also, push back the cuticles to ensure you can apply the topical treatment right at the base of the nail.
There are a number of ways to prevent the formation of nail fungus, although no prevention method is 100% effective. Therefore, it’s important to monitor your toenails for any symptoms of a nail fungus infection so you can seek out treatment as soon as possible. The sooner you treat the fungal infection, the easier and less time consuming treatment will be. If you can catch the toenail fungal infection before it spreads throughout the entire nail and before it becomes established in the nail bed, the treatment can be much faster – a matter of weeks instead of months.
Other tips include:
- It’s important to ensure your nail salon disinfects all metal equipment. Disposables like nail files, pumice stones and grinders should not be re-used among clients. You can always opt to bring your own.
- Also, avoid prolonged exposure to dampness and moisture. This includes sweat. If your feet sweat profusely, consider changing into fresh socks and use an absorbent powder to remedy this issue.
- Wear loose, open-toed shoes often. A warm, dark, moist environment promotes fungal growth; so an airy, dry environment is ideal for limiting fungal growth.
- Avoid wearing tight shoes, especially for long periods of time.
- Eat a balanced diet that’s rich in nutrients. A balanced diet helps promote a strong immune system that will prevent the spread of fungus and promote healing.
- Clip off as much of the infected nail as possible, as often as possible. It’s best to clip after a shower or bath, as the nail will be soft and easier to remove.
- Do not re-use a nail file or clippers on uninfected nails without first disinfecting them in isopropyl alcohol.
And most importantly, seek treatment immediately if you suspect that you may have nail fungus!
When To Seek Medical Help for Toenail Fungus
Advanced cases of well-established nail fungus often require medical treatment using prescription medications and other treatment methods, like surgical debridement. In addition, toenail fungus can lead to significant complications which are often painful; these complications can lead to secondary bacterial infection too. The bacterial infection can pose a serious risk in individuals with an underlying condition like diabetes or immune compromised individuals.
The area below and around the nail can get red and inflamed due to infection or due to an intense natural reaction to the fungus. An odor may also arise in the case of infection.
If you observe these symptoms, or if you’re experiencing pain, seek medical attention. This is especially important if you suffer from an underlying condition that affects circulation and/or your immune system.
Also, if home remedies and over-the-counter treatments do not help, seek assistance from your physician. Often, the topical treatments must be paired with an oral anti-fungal medication that attacks the fungal on a systemic basis, from within.
Toenail fungus can be an unsightly and uncomfortable problem that’s often difficult to cure. But prompt treatment will result in a quicker, more rapid recovery.
Toenail Fungus FAQ’s (Frequently Asked Questions)
- How long does toenail fungus take to develop?
- How is toenail fungus spread?
- Is it possible to spread toenail fungus to your privates?
- Is there a drug for getting rid of toenail fungus?
- How much does it cost to have permanent toenail removal surgery?
- Does laser for toenail fungus really work?
- Is there a non-prescription method for getting rid of toenail fungus besides going to the doctor?
- What popular products can I use to get rid of toenail fungus?
1. How long does toenail fungus take to develop?
Toenail fungus can develop fairly rapidly after initial exposure. Most cases of toenail fungus involve a condition called Onychomycosis, which actually has four different strains. So the development of this condition varies depending on the precise type of fungus and the conditions. If an individual’s hands or feet are continually wet or in closed-toed shoes, this can accelerate the development.
Typically, the first sign of toenail fungus shows up within a few days after exposure, in the form of a small white /light spot under the edge of the nail. Over the next few weeks, if untreated, the infection will progress deeper under the nail until the entire length of the nail is infected.
Once the base of the nail is affected, all new nail growth will be affected by the fungus, resulting in symptoms like thickened nails that are discolored (green, yellow or even brown or black), and they tend to break off easily. They may also have an odor and the ailment can be associated with pain too.
2. How is toenail fungus spread?
Toenail fungus can spread very easily, as fungi is very resilient and difficult to kill.
Initial infection can occur whenever your toenail contacts an object or surface that has been contacted by an infected toenail. Common modes of transmission include sharing shoes and clothing with an infected person, walking barefoot in pool areas and gym showers, along with sharing pedicure (or manicure) tools and equipment with a person who is infected.
Once one toenail is infected with fungus, it can rapidly spread to other nails, as there’s skin-to-skin and nail-to-nail contact among your toes that allows for the spread to occur. It can also be transferred when an uninfected nail contacts a shoe, nail file or other object that has contacted an infected nail.
3. Is it possible to spread toenail fungus to your privates?
No. Onychomycosis only impacts your fingernails and toenails. But that doesn’t mean that you’re immune to fungal infections in other areas of your body.
Fungus thrives in locations that are warm, dark and moist. Therefore, fungal infections can arise anywhere on your body where these conditions are present, including the genitals, face, scalp (particularly under matted, tangled hair or hair with braids, dreadlocks or a weave), ears, in your mouth, in your armpits, under your breasts and even in between skin folds.
Your feet – especially the area between your toes – can suffer from fungal infections too. It’s called athlete’s foot, and this type of fungus thrives in the area between your toes, as this area is most prone to dampness and warmth due to sweating while wearing shoes.
Tinnea more commonly known as ringworm can occur anywhere on your body. It’s often transferred among athletes or gym-goers. The other commonplace type of fungal infection is candida, better known as yeast.
Individuals who have poor circulation, poor hygiene or a poor immune system are more prone to developing fungal infections, both toenail fungus and other forms. Also, individuals are more prone to fungal infections while taking antibiotics. Fungus is always present in certain areas of your body and the antibiotics kill off the body’s natural bacteria which serve to keep this fungus in check, so over-growth occurs, resulting in a fungal infection.
So while you can’t transfer fungus from your nails to another body part, many individuals who suffer from this condition are more apt to develop an infection in another area too.
4. Is there a drug for getting rid of toenail fungus?
Yes. There are several anti-fungal drugs that are effective in killing toenail fungus. These medications come in two basic types: systemic and topical.
Systemic anti-fungal medications usually come in pill form. These tend to be the more effective (and more expensive) of the two options, as they treat the fungal infection from the inside out. Drugs in this class include clotrimazole, terbinafine and itraconazole.
Topical anti-fungal medications come as an ointment, cream or as a paint-on lacquer. Topicals are often paired with systemic medications for optimal efficacy. Common topical medications include amorolfine, butenafine and ciclopirox/ciclopiroxolamine.
These medications are only effective when taken for a long period of time, until the infected portion of nail completely grows out. Therefore, treatment can take a year or longer.
5. How much does it cost to have permanent toenail removal surgery?
Severe and recurrent cases of toenail fungus often warrant toenail removal surgery. There are two methods that can be utilized, including a traditional surgical approach and a laser procedure.
There are also two options. In one case, only the nail is removed and it’s allowed to grow back on its own. In other cases, the nail is removed and the nail matrix is destroyed.
The cost depends on the method of removal and whether the nail matrix is destroyed to prevent re-growth. Other variants include whether or not you have insurance and your location. In the southern U.S., a survey of several podiatrists revealed that out-of-pocket cost ranged between $1,500 to more than $5,000.
The podiatrists we spoke to emphasized that each case is unique, therefore, providing an accurate price quote was rather difficult due the number of variables (which toe is affected, how many toes are affected, the precise variety of fungus, the presence of bacterial infections, the type of anesthesia and any underlying health conditions. For an accurate price quote, it’s best to consult your podiatrist.
6. Does laser for toenail fungus really work?
Yes. Toenail fungus can be treated using lasers. There are several varieties of laser therapy approved for use in the United States, including pinpointe-type laser therapy, Fox Diode laser therapy and Noveon-type laser treatment.
Laser therapy works by heating the area under the nail, which kills the fungus. The lasers can also be used to destroy the nail matrix to prevent nail re-growth in cases of chronic, difficult-to-treat cases of toenail fungus.
7. Is there a non-prescription method for getting rid of toenail fungus besides going to the doctor?
Yes. There are a number of over-the-counter topical treatments for toenail fungus. They’re available online or at your local drug store.
There is some anecdotal evidence that suggests that some toenail fungus remedies are relatively effective, particularly in mild cases.
One approach blends a few different remedies: Soak your feet in a 50-50 mix of water and vinegar for 30 minutes nightly. Then, apply Vicks Vapor Rub to your toenails. Alternatively, some apply pure, 10% (or greater) essential oils, like tea tree oil, orange oil and thyme oil. The Vicks or oil should be applied in the morning too.
While treating nail fungus, you should also eat a healthy diet, wear loose, open-toed shoes like flip-flops as much as possible, and keep your feet dry (this may require changing your socks a couple times per day).
8. What popular products can I use to get rid of toenail fungus?
There are an array of over-the-counter topical treatments for toenail fungus. These are the most popular and affordable option. They can be effective, but you must follow the directions and continue treatment until the entire nail has grown out. Otherwise, the fungus will re-grow. Some popular brands of topical toenail fungus medications include: