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.
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.
Many podiatrists now consider this an effective treatment, but because it’s new, there’s not enough concrete data to compare with other treatments. Dr. Hinkes raises another concern: “A clinical cure and a mycological cure are two different things. With the clinical cure, you look at the nail and it looks fine. It’s pink and shiny and smooth and it looks great. But if you sample the nail, you might find that there’s mold or fungus there, so it does not have what we call a mycological cure—mycology is the study of fungi.
Occlusive shoe materials, such as vinyl, which cause the feet to remain moist, provide an excellent area for the fungus to proliferate. Likewise, absorbent socks like cotton that wick water away from your feet may help. Some individuals who sweat excessively benefit from the application of antiperspirants like 20% aluminum chloride (Drysol). Powders can help keep your feet dry. Although counterintuitive, if your feet can be soaked in a solution of aluminum acetate (Burow's solution or Domeboro solution) and then air dried with a fan, this can be very helpful if performed three or four times within 30 minutes. A home remedy of dilute white vinegar soaks, using one part vinegar and roughly four parts water, once or twice a day (as 10-minute foot soaks) may aid in treatment followed by evaporation can be helpful.
Trichophyton rubrum is the most common dermatophyte involved in onychomycosis. Other dermatophytes that may be involved are T. interdigitale, Epidermophyton floccosum, T. violaceum, Microsporum gypseum, T. tonsurans, and T. soudanense. A common outdated name that may still be reported by medical laboratories is Trichophyton mentagrophytes for T. interdigitale. The name T. mentagrophytes is now restricted to the agent of favus skin infection of the mouse; though this fungus may be transmitted from mice and their danders to humans, it generally infects skin and not nails.
Oils such as olive oil and sunflower oil contain ozone gas. A 2011 study published in the Brazilian Journal of Microbiology, showed that small doses of this kind of ozone, applied over a short period, can eliminate fungus. A different study, conducted at the National Center for Scientific Research, Cuba, found that sunflower oil was more effective than the prescription drug Xolegel (ketoconazole).
Other risk factors include perspiring heavily, being in a humid or moist environment, psoriasis, wearing socks and shoes that hinder ventilation and do not absorb perspiration, going barefoot in damp public places such as swimming pools, gyms and shower rooms, having athlete's foot (tinea pedis), minor skin or nail injury, damaged nail, or other infection, and having diabetes, circulation problems, which may also lead to lower peripheral temperatures on hands and feet, or a weakened immune system.
A 2003 survey of diseases of the foot in 16 European countries found onychomycosis to be the most frequent fungal foot infection and estimates its prevalence at 27%. Prevalence was observed to increase with age. In Canada, the prevalence was estimated to be 6.48%. Onychomycosis affects approximately one-third of diabetics and is 56% more frequent in people suffering from psoriasis.
You can use simple home remedies to get rid of toenail fungus. Or a podiatrist can take care of toenail fungus, particularly if it is caught early. Topical or oral treatments can also work on toenail fungus, as well as the removal of the infected nail. A temporary removal can work to treat the area, but a permanent removal so that the bad nail won’t grow back can also be performed.
Before buying new shoes, have a professional measure the length and width of your feet at the end of the day, while you're standing. For unusually flat feet or high arches, an exam by a podiatrist may be warranted. These conditions can increase the risk of osteoarthritis. Early treatment and use of proper footwear may help to avoid unnecessary wear and tear on the joints of the foot.
One of the more interesting remedies for toenail fungus is organic cornmeal. Corn naturally hosts a form of fungus that is harmless to the human body but deadly to Candida – the most common fungal parasite that causes infections in people. In a container big enough to fit your foot (or both feet if needed), mix one cup of cornmeal and about two quarts of water. Allow the cornmeal to soak in the water for at least one hour then submerge the infected foot (or feet) in the mixture for a half hour or more. While the frequency of use for this remedy is up for debate, sources have reported success with treatment performed as seldom as once per week. Others say to perform it daily. Because cornmeal is totally harmless to skin and nails, realistically the treatment can be repeated as often as you like.
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and should not be relied on to make decisions about your health. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the WebMD Site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
Modern treatments made surgery a last resort. “Before we had these 21st century medications, we didn’t have a good choice in how to deal with toenail fungus,” said Dr. Hinkes. “Oftentimes patients would come in, and out of frustration and lack of any real significant clinical cure with medication, they would ask for their nails to be permanently removed.”
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.
Toenail injury: There are two types of injuries that can occur to your toenail. The first is acute trauma where the nail is impacted over and over again as in the case of a runner wearing shoes that don’t fit well. The other thing that can happen is blunt trauma where something falls on your toe such as a heavy object and causes an injury. This injury makes your toenail more susceptible to fungus. It is important in both cases to look after your toenails properly to avoid an infection.
Creams and other topical medications have traditionally been less effective against nail fungus than oral medications. This is because nails are too hard for external applications to penetrate. It is also cumbersome to adhere to topical medication regimens. Oftentimes, these medications require daily applications for a period of time up to one year to see results. One of the major advantages of topical treatment is the minimal risk for serious side effects and drug interactions compared to oral therapy.
Starts at the ends of the nails and raises the nail up: This is called "distal subungual onychomycosis." It is the most common type of fungal infection of the nails in both adults and children. It is more common in the toes than the fingers, and the great toe is usually the first one to be affected. Risk factors include older age, swimming, athlete's foot, psoriasis, diabetes, family members with the infection, or a suppressed immune system. It usually starts as a discolored area at a corner of the big toe and slowly spreads toward the cuticle. Eventually, the toenails will become thickened and flaky. Sometimes, you can also see signs of athlete's foot in between the toes or skin peeling on the sole of the foot. It is often accompanied by onycholysis. The most common cause is T. rubrum.
Onychomycosis patients may need to learn new, healthier habits to stop the fungus growing back. These could include protecting toes from sources of infection, wearing correctly fitting footwear, laundering socks in hot water with disinfectant, wearing protective footwear at the pool and gym, keeping nails short, using open-toed footwear and wearing shoes made of breathable material.
If you have diabetes, you may have reduced blood circulation and nerve supply in your feet. You're also at greater risk of a bacterial skin infection (cellulitis). So any relatively minor injury to your feet — including a nail fungal infection — can lead to a more serious complication. See your doctor if you have diabetes and think you're developing nail fungus.