Recognize the signs. Before you can treat toenail fungus, you need to know what to look for. Nail fungus does not necessarily have consistent symptoms. The most common sign that you have nail fungus is tenderness or pain in the nail. Signs of a fungal infection include changes in your nail, such as color changes. The nail will usually get yellow or white streaks on the side of the nail. There is usually due to a buildup of debris under or around the nail, a crumbling and thickening of the outside edges of the nail, a loosening or lifting up of the nail, and nail brittleness.[3]
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Fungal nail infections and the resultant nail destruction can promote other sources of infection like cellulitis (a bacterial skin infection) and other forms of tinea, and aggravate foot problems resulting from other illnesses such as diabetes. Diagnosis is usually confirmed by looking at nail clippings through a microscope or other tests before starting treatment.
There are several doctors who can provide nail fungus treatment. Your primary care provider, a dermatologist, or a podiatrist can treat nail fungus. Any one of these doctors can provide proper diagnosis and prescribe medications specific to fungal infection. A podiatrist or dermatologist may shave the top layer of the nail off or even remove part of the nail.

Patience is key, as treatment duration varies from 2-3 months for oral treatments to up to 12 months for topical treatment. Because the nails take a long time to grow (6 months for fingernails and 12-18 months for toenails), it will take some time for the infection to resolve and the nail appearance to improve, regardless of the type of treatment used. Sometimes treatment may not be successful and your doctor may prescribe a different medication.

Over-the-counter antifungal treatments. Antifungal creams and ointments treat toenail infections while helping to keep new fungus out so new nails can grow. Some treatments must be applied every day, others are applied once a week. It’s a good idea to apply topical treatments to both the foot and nail simultaneously to prevent foot fungus from spreading to the toes. If you trim your toenails well (see above) before applying an antifungal, the medicine can reach deeper into the nailbed.
Diagnosis is made based on clinical exam and can be confirmed by viewing scrapings of the nail under a microscope, or growing the fungus in a culture medium. This is not an easy condition to cure, so rather than trying home treatment with over-the-counter medications, it's best to see your doctor. As with many conditions, nail fungus infections are easier to treat if you catch them early.
Nail fungus is usually harmless. But many people find discolored or thickened nails unpleasant to look at and want to get rid of the fungus as soon as possible. Fungal nail infections can also spread, and may infect other people. Regardless of the treatment you choose, it will take a while until the nail looks normal again. It’s especially important to be patient where toenails are concerned. It can take a year for a healthy big toenail to grow back. Nail fungus can sometimes be very persistent despite treatment. It can also come back after successful treatment.
Athlete's foot was first medically described in 1908.[9] Globally, athlete's foot affects about 15% of the population.[2] Males are more often affected than females.[4] It occurs most frequently in older children or younger adults.[4] Historically it is believed to have been a rare condition, that became more frequent in the 1900s due to the greater use of shoes, health clubs, war, and travel.[10]
Fungal nail infections don’t usually lead to serious long-term problems when properly treated, but they may be more serious in certain individuals. This can include people with diabetes or who have a weakened immune system and have trouble fighting off an infection. Even if there is no pain associated with the infection, it is important that you promptly visit your doctor for assessment if you see any abnormal nail changes.

Prevent future occurrences. There are many situations that make you more at risk for infection. You are at a higher risk if you are older, have diabetes, have an impaired immune system, or have poor circulation. If you are at high risk, you should take extra care to prevent infection. Preventative measures include wearing shoes or sandals when you are at damp public areas such as swimming pools or gyms, keeping your toenails clipped and clean, making sure your feet are dry, and drying your feet after you shower.
Topical nail-bed fungus treatments are a safe option that almost anyone can use. They work best when the infection is treated in its earliest stages. However, these medications do not heal the nail itself, only the fungus growing on the nail bed and surrounding area. Only oral medications, which come with many contraindications and may not be safe for everyone, can treat the nail itself.
Physical exam alone has been shown to be an unreliable method of diagnosing fungal nails. There are many conditions that can make nails look damaged, so even doctors have a difficult time. In fact, studies have found that only about 50% of cases of abnormal nail appearance were caused by fungus. Therefore, laboratory testing is almost always indicated. Some insurance companies may even ask for a laboratory test confirmation of the diagnosis in order for antifungal medicine to be covered. A nail sample is obtained either by clipping the toenail or by drilling a hole in the nail. That piece of nail is sent to a lab where it can by stained, cultured, or tested by PCR (to identify the genetic material of the organisms) to identify the presence of fungus. Staining and culturing can take up to six weeks to get a result, but PCR to identify the fungal genetic material, if available, can be done in about one day. However, this test is not widely used due to its high cost. If a negative biopsy result is accompanied by high clinical suspicion, such as nails that are ragged, discolored, thickened, and crumbly, it warrants a repeat test due to the prevalence of false-negative results in these tests.
Athlete's foot is a form of dermatophytosis (fungal infection of the skin), caused by dermatophytes, fungi (most of which are mold) which inhabit dead layers of skin and digests keratin.[2] Dermatophytes are anthropophilic, meaning these parasitic fungi prefer human hosts. Athlete's foot is most commonly caused by the molds known as Trichophyton rubrum and T. mentagrophytes,[21] but may also be caused by Epidermophyton floccosum.[22][23] Most cases of athlete's foot in the general population are caused by T. rubrum; however, the majority of athlete's foot cases in athletes are caused by T. mentagrophytes.[13]
Your physician may perform a simple test called a potassium hydroxide (KOH) preparation for microscopic fungal examination in the office or laboratory. This test can be used to confirm the presence of a fungal infection. This test is performed by using a microscope to examine small flakes of skin from the rash. Many dermatologists perform this test in their office with results available within minutes. Rarely, a small piece of skin may be removed and sent for biopsy or fungal culture to help confirm the diagnosis.

For some people, a fungal infection of the nails can be difficult to cure and the first round of medication might not work. The nail infection can’t be considered cured until a new nail that’s free from infection has grown in. Although this indicates that the nail is no longer infected, it’s possible for the fungal infection to return. In severe cases, there may be permanent damage to your nail, and it may have to be removed.


When the skin is injured damaged, the natural protective skin barrier is broken. Bacteria and yeasts can then invade the broken skin. Bacteria can cause a bad smell. Bacterial infection of the skin and resulting inflammation is known as cellulitis. This is especially likely to occur in individuals with diabetes, chronic leg swelling, who have had veins removed (such as for heart bypass surgery), or in the elderly. Bacterial skin infections also occur more frequently in patients with impaired immune systems.
Fungal nail infections don’t usually lead to serious long-term problems when properly treated, but they may be more serious in certain individuals. This can include people with diabetes or who have a weakened immune system and have trouble fighting off an infection. Even if there is no pain associated with the infection, it is important that you promptly visit your doctor for assessment if you see any abnormal nail changes.
Dermatophytes — fungus that grows on the skin, hair and nails but don’t penetrate tissues of the body. Athlete’s foot or Trichophyton rubrum is the most common dermatophyte and can actually infect the toenails. Infection can also begin by touching objects that have dermatophytes on them, such as nail clippers, nail files, socks, shoes, shower floors, etc. Dermatophytes are the cause of most fungal toenail infections.
Athlete's foot is a form of dermatophytosis (fungal infection of the skin), caused by dermatophytes, fungi (most of which are mold) which inhabit dead layers of skin and digests keratin.[2] Dermatophytes are anthropophilic, meaning these parasitic fungi prefer human hosts. Athlete's foot is most commonly caused by the molds known as Trichophyton rubrum and T. mentagrophytes,[21] but may also be caused by Epidermophyton floccosum.[22][23] Most cases of athlete's foot in the general population are caused by T. rubrum; however, the majority of athlete's foot cases in athletes are caused by T. mentagrophytes.[13]
Topical agents include ciclopirox nail paint, amorolfine, and efinaconazole.[19][20][21] Some topical treatments need to be applied daily for prolonged periods (at least 1 year).[20] Topical amorolfine is applied weekly.[22] Topical ciclopirox results in a cure in 6% to 9% of cases; amorolfine might be more effective.[2][20] Ciclopirox when used with terbinafine appears to be better than either agent alone.[2]
According to the UK's National Health Service, "Athlete’s foot is very contagious and can be spread through direct and indirect contact."[24] The disease may spread to others directly when they touch the infection. People can contract the disease indirectly by coming into contact with contaminated items (clothes, towels, etc.) or surfaces (such as bathroom, shower, or locker room floors). The fungi that cause athlete's foot can easily spread to one's environment. Fungi rub off of fingers and bare feet, but also travel on the dead skin cells that continually fall off the body. Athlete's foot fungi and infested skin particles and flakes may spread to socks, shoes, clothes, to other people, pets (via petting), bed sheets, bathtubs, showers, sinks, counters, towels, rugs, floors, and carpets.
Anti-fungal properties of lavender oil make it an effective remedy for mild cases of toenail fungus.  Apply a few drops of 100% pure lavender essential oil to the infected nails every night and let it soak in while you sleep.  To prevent the oil from rubbing off, you can optionally cover your feet with a pair of wool socks.  Just be sure not to use socks made of synthetic fibers as this will only worsen the infection.  Remember, a nail that looks healthy may still be hiding traces of fungus.  It is best to continue topical treatments such as this one for at least a few weeks after the infection appears to be gone.
Green nails can be caused by Pseudomonas bacteria, which grow under a nail that has partially separated from the nail bed. This infection may cause a foul odor of the nails. The treatment is to trim the nail short every four weeks, don't clean it, polish if you want to hide the color, and wait two to three months. It is also advised to avoid soaking the nail in any sort of water (even if inside gloves) and to thoroughly dry the nail after bathing. If the problem continues, there are prescription treatments that your doctor may try.

Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.
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