Scratching infected areas may also spread the fungus to the fingers and under the fingernails. If not washed away soon enough, it can infect the fingers and fingernails, growing in the skin and in the nails (not just underneath). After scratching, it can be spread to wherever the person touches, including other parts of the body and to one's environment. Scratching also causes infected skin scales to fall off into one's environment, leading to further possible spread.
One way to definitively get rid of toenail fungus is by surgery. Surgical treatment of onychomycosis involves nail removal. However, this often only provides temporary relief, and recurrence is common unless additional antifungal medication (oral or topical) is simultaneously used. However, surgical removal may be warranted when the affected nail is associated with other factors such as trauma and or infection.
If the diagnosis is uncertain, direct microscopy of a potassium hydroxide preparation of a skin scraping (known as a KOH test) can confirm the diagnosis of athlete's foot and help rule out other possible causes, such as candidiasis, pitted keratolysis, erythrasma, contact dermatitis, eczema, or psoriasis. Dermatophytes known to cause athlete's foot will demonstrate multiple septate branching hyphae on microscopy.
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.