Toenail fungus (onychomycosis) is caused by a group of fungi known as dermophytes. This group thrives on skin and on keratin, the main component of hair and nails. The fungus gets under the nail and begins to grow, damaging the nail so it discolors, becoming white, brown or yellow. Eventually, the nail might thicken, harden, become brittle and even fall off.
Prescription oral antifungals such as terbinafine (Lamisil) or fluconazole (Diflucan) are traditionally used to treat toenail fungus. These treatments are often effective, but they may cause serious side effects ranging from upset stomach and dizziness to severe skin problems and jaundice. This may be why many people try home remedies instead. Here are 10 of these popular at-home treatments.
Satchell, A. C., Saurajen, A., Bell, C., & Barnetson, R. StC. (2002, July 19). Treatment of interdigital tinea pedis with 25% and 50% tea tree oil solution: A randomized, placebo-controlled, blinded study [Abstract]. Australasian Journal of Dermatology, 43(3), 175–178. Retrieved from http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1046/j.1440-0960.2002.00590.x/full
Swelling and redness of the skin around the nail is called paronychia. This is an infection of the skin at the bottom of the nail (cuticle). If the infection is acute (has a rapid onset), it is usually caused by bacteria. It may respond to warm soaks but will often need to be drained by a doctor. A chronic paronychia occurs when a cuticle becomes inflamed or irritated over time. Sometimes, yeast will take advantage of the damaged skin and infect the area as well. Therapy begins with keeping the skin dry and out of water. If the problem continues, a physician should be consulted. Antibiotics are not often used but may be necessary in severe infection.
Use soap and water to wash your feet, and dry well, including between toes. Trim your toenails -- straight across -- to keep them shorter than the end of your toe. Make sure the tools you use are clean, too. Wash clippers and files with soap and water, then wipe with rubbing alcohol. You might be tempted to cover up discolored nails with polish, but don't. Your nail bed can't "breathe," which keeps fungus from going away.