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.
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.
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.
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.
Making a few simple lifestyle changes can help prevent a fungal infection of the nails. Taking good care of your nails by keeping them well trimmed and clean is a good way to prevent infections. You should also avoid injuring the skin around your nails. If you’re going to have damp or wet hands for an extended amount of time, you may want to wear rubber gloves.
High heeled shoes push too much body weight toward the toes and then squeeze them together. Over time, the result can be hammertoe (early stage, lower right), abnormal bends in the toe joints that can gradually become rigid. Surgery is sometimes needed to relieve the pain of severe hammertoe. Crowding can cause other toe deformities, along with continuous shoe friction, leading to painful corns and calluses.
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.
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.