Technically called “onychomycosis”, fungal infection of the nail plate (the hard outer nail) or nail bed (that lies under the hard nail) will most often appear as yellowish, white, black or green discolouration of the nail. The infected nail may also appear thickened or brittle. In severe cases, from long-term infection (where all the tissues of the nail have been infected), the infected nail may break up and fall off.
Topical treatment (polish or cream) isn’t likely to get rid of a fungal nail infection. Treatment with tablets is considerably more effective and takes less time. But some people can’t take tablets because of the very rare, yet serious risks. How you feel about the pros and cons of the different treatment options is a personal matter. You can also discuss the options with your doctor.
When athlete's foot fungus or infested skin particles spread to one's environment (such as to clothes, shoes, bathroom, etc.) whether through scratching, falling, or rubbing off, not only can they infect other people, they can also reinfect (or further infect) the host they came from. For example, infected feet infest one's socks and shoes which further expose the feet to the fungus and its spores when worn again.
One way to contract athlete's foot is to get a fungal infection somewhere else on the body first. The fungi causing athlete's foot may spread from other areas of the body to the feet, usually by touching or scratching the affected area, thereby getting the fungus on the fingers, and then touching or scratching the feet. While the fungus remains the same, the name of the condition changes based on where on the body the infection is located. For example, the infection is known as tinea corporis ("ringworm") when the torso or limbs are affected or tinea cruris (jock itch or dhobi itch) when the groin is affected. Clothes (or shoes), body heat, and sweat can keep the skin warm and moist, just the environment the fungus needs to thrive.
Research suggests that fungi are sensitive to heat, typically 40–60 °C (104–140 °F). The basis of laser treatment is to try to heat the nail bed to these temperatures in order to disrupt fungal growth. As of 2013 research into laser treatment seems promising. There is also ongoing development in photodynamic therapy, which uses laser or LED light to activate photosensitisers that eradicate fungi.
Red or black nails due to a hematoma, or blood under the nail, usually occur from trauma (like whacking yourself on the thumb with a hammer). The discolored area will grow out with the nail and be trimmed off as you trim your nails. If you have a black spot under your nail that was not caused by trauma, you may want to see a dermatologist or a podiatrist if it involves a toenail to make sure it is not melanoma (a type of skin cancer associated with pigmented cells). A simple biopsy can rule out malignancy (cancer).
Dr. Kyoung Min Han is a podiatrist (foot and ankle specialist) practicing in Southern California. Dr. Han completed her undergraduate education at the University of California, San Diego, and went on to the New York College of Podiatric Medicine to pursue her medical training. She returned to her native Southern California to complete a three-year foot and ankle surgical residency, followed by subspecialty training in a sports medicine fellowship.
Mouthwash kills bacteria and germs in your mouth, so why not use it to kill bacteria and germs on your feet? Its antiseptic properties work to keep away harmful bacteria and fungi. Combine equal parts white vinegar and mouthwash and soak the infected area for 30 minutes, then scrub the toenail area gently. Repeat once or twice daily until the foot fungus clears. Make sure you know these home remedies for athlete’s foot.
As both an antiseptic and fungicidal remedy, tea tree oil is a great remedy for onychomycosis. First clean areas on and around the infection with rubbing alcohol then apply undiluted 100% pure tea tree oil (such as this Plant Therapy Tea Tree Oil) directly to the affected nails and let it soak in. After about ten minutes, gently scrub the nail with a soft bristle toothbrush. When applying tea tree oil directly to skin, consider mixing the oil one-to-one with an all-natural carrier, like olive or almond oil. Repeat daily until the new healthy nail grows out completely, then continue treatment for two to three more weeks to prevent regrowth.