Toenail fungus or onychomycosis is typically characterized by thickening and distortion of the toenails, or discoloration that appears as white, yellow or black flakes or streaks on the toenails (See included pictures or images). But what are the risk factors for toenail fungus or fungal toenail infection? This post details the causes, signs and symptoms, diagnosis and treatment of toenail fungus, including the best medications, cures and home remedies used to get rid of it. Also, learn how you to care for toenail fungus and prevent it from, occurring, spreading or recurring after treatment.
What Is Toenail Fungus? Meaning & Definition
Toenail fungus is a fungal nail infection that affects toenails. Although it is less common, fingernail fungus is a similar infection that affects the fingernails. Toenail fungus occurs when a fungus grows on or under the toenail. Toenail fungus tend to affect the big toe more than the other toes.
The term nail fungus is used to refer to both toenail fungus and fingernail fungus. Nail fungus is commonly known as onychomycosis among medical practitioners.
Toenail fungus is among the common toenail problems and is the most frequent cause of an infected toenail. Though less common, another cause of infected toenail is toenail bacteria, which is a bacterial toenail infection.
Signs and Symptoms of Toenail Fungus
- Discolored toenails: Toenail fungus can lead to discoloration of your toenails. Usually, the toenail turns white (or whitish), black (or dark), yellow (or yellowish), or green (or greenish).Sometimes, it may cause flaky spots with a mixture of these colors.
- Thickened toenails: The toenails become thick and hard. The thickness and hardness of the toenails usually make them difficult to trim.
- Distorted toenails: Fungus toenails develop unusual shape. They may become detached from the nail bed or appear to be growing in a sideway direction.
- Rugged Toenails: It is common for toenails infected with fungus to develop an uneven or a rough texture on their surface.
- Crumbly Toenails: Fungus toenails usually become soft and fragile or brittle. As a result, the nail may corrode or crack, or pieces may break off, making it have irregular or cracked edges.
- Foul smell: Although rarely, fungal infection on toenails may cause a slightly foul odor, especially when the infection becomes serious and affect the surrounding skin.
- Dark Color under toenails: The debris from the infected toenail may build up beneath the toenail, causing the appearance of dark color under the nails.
- Pain and discomfort: Toenail fungus often cause pain or discomfort, especially when you or your shoes apply pressure on the toenails.
White Toenail Fungus
Toenail fungus is a common cause of a discoloration that appears as flaky white spots, dots or patches on toenails. When it causes white spots, it is often referred to as white toenail fungus. However, there are many other causes of white spots on toenails including nutrient deficiency, injury and underlying health conditions. Therefore, white spots on toenails do not always point to a fungal infection.
Black Toenail Fungus
It is also common for toenail fungus to cause flakes of black or dark spots, dots or patches on toenails. When it causes black or dark deposits on toenails, it is usually referred to as white toenail fungus. The black color may also appear under the toenails due to debris that falls off the toenail and gets trapped under it. As with white spots, there are other causes of black spots on toenails.
Yellow Toenail Fungus
The discoloration caused by toenail fungus may also lead to flaky yellow spots, dots or patches on toenails. the term yellow toenail fungus describes the fungal infection when it causes yellow spots on the toenails However, yellow toenails are often caused by other health problems, especially yellow nail syndrome. Nevertheless, the other conditions may not include symptoms like distortion, and thickening to the toenails.
Toenail Fungus Pictures (images)
We have inserted excellent toenail fungus pictures in various sections of this post to enable you to compare and have a hint about your toenail problem. The pictures illustrate the appearance of both early and later stages of toenail fungus. We have also included pictures before and after treatment in relevant sections.
Causes of Toenail Fungus
As the name suggests, toenail fungus is caused by fungi. There are various types of fungi that can cause toenail fungus. The most common type is called dermatophyte. Other common types of fungi include yeast and molds. The risk factors of toenail fungus are discussed in a later section of this post.
Usually, fungal toenail infection starts from a fungal foot infection called athlete’s foot. In such cases, toenail fungus develops when the fungi causing athlete’s foot spreads to and attacks toenails.
However, you can also contract toenail fungus without necessarily having suffered from athlete’s foot. Normally fungi exist harmlessly on the skin, but under certain conditions, they can multiply and lead to infections. The fungi thrive warm, dark and regularly moist places like the feet.
Toenail fungus can spread from one infected toenail to other healthy ones. This especially happens when your feet are subjected to the conditions that encourage growth and development of the fungi that already exists on your other toes.
You can also get toenail fungus from other people who have fungal infections, whether or not they affect their toenails. Toenail fungus is contagious and hence can spread from one individual to another through direct contact or by sharing items like clothes (socks), shoes or towels. Sometimes, this happens when your feet come into contact with fungi on the ground, especially if you walk barefoot.
Risk Factors for Toenail Fungus
Who is most susceptible to toenail fungus? You are more likely to get toenail fungus due to various factors that subject your toenails to fungi or increase your vulnerability to it. The common risk factors for toenail fungal infection include:
- Old age: The likelihood of developing toenail fungus increases at old age. This is because at old age there is reduced blood flow and your nails grow at a slower rate. In addition, you are more vulnerable to fungi, having been exposed to it for many years
- Heavy sweating: Sweaty feet create a conducive environment for fungus to thrive and multiply. The fungi may attack the toenails, leading to a fungal toenail infection.
- Wearing tight-fitting shoes: This prevents the foot or toes from breathing, making them sweat a lot. This results in a warm and damp condition that encourages growth of fingi.
- Athlete foot infection: Those who have a history of athlete’s foot, which is also a fungal infection, are likely to develop toenails fungus. This usually happens when the fungus that causes athlete’s foot spreads to the toenails.
- Staying barefoot: Walking barefoot in damp public places such as gyms, swimming pools, and shower rooms may expose your feet to fungi, leading to toenail fungus.
- Nail Injuries: In case you get even minor injuries to your toenail or the skin around it, fungi may easily gain entry into the nail. Having skin conditions such as psoriasis may also cause sores around the toenail, subjecting it to fungus.
- Health conditions and diseases: You are likely to get toenail fungus if you have conditions such as diabetes, blood circulation problems or a weakened immune system. These conditions make some of your body parts, including the toenails, vulnerable to fungus.
- Genetic predisposition: In some cases, toenail fungus runs in the family, a clear indication that the lineage affected could be genetically predisposed to toenail fungus.
Diagnosis for Toenail Fungus
Proper diagnosis of toenail fungus may be necessary because there are other health problems that may manifest the similar signs and symptoms. Equally, an underlying health issue such as athletes or diabetes foot might be associated with the fungus toenail.
Diagnosis may is especially necessary if the fungal toenail infection is persistent or worsens with time. To get rid of the infection, you will need to treat the toenail fungus as well as all the underlying health problems.
A dermatologist diagnoses toenail fungus by physically examining your toenails and nearby skin. The dermatologist may carry out a further test that entails collecting debris from the affected toenail for a lab examination. It might also be necessary for the doctor to test for suspicious underlying health conditions like diabetes and poor immune system.
How to Get Rid of Toenail Fungus
You can easily get rid of a fungal toenail infection with home remedies, especially if you detect it in early stages before it becomes serious. However, in some cases, your doctor may use other treatments and cures, including fungal medicines and toenail removal, to get rid of toenail fungus. The common effective home remedies and best treatments for toenail fungus are highlighted in the next sections.
Home Remedies for Toenail Fungus
Generally, natural treatments or home remedies are more effective than prescription medications when used to treat mild-to-moderate toenail fungus. Although they typically do not cause many side effects, they usually take longer to eliminate toenail fungus as compared to medical treatments and prescriptions.
However, natural home remedies should not be used if you have underlying conditions such as diabetes or weakened immune system. Instead, seek medical attention to address the underlying health problems as well as the toenail fungus.
- Vicks VapoRub: Studies show that this antifungal topical ointment has positive results when used to treat toenail fungus. Apply a small amount of Vicks VapoRub to the affected toenail once or twice a day after washing and drying it.
- Snakeroot extract: This is an antifungal made from plants that belong to the sunflower family. It is usually applied about once per day at the beginning of the treatment. The frequency of application may be reduced to twice per week in the second week and once per week in the third month.
- Tea tree oil: Tea tree oil contains has both antifungal properties and hence can be effectively used to treat fungal toenail infection. To use it, paint it onto the affected toenail directly twice daily using a cotton swab
- Oregano oil: This oil contains thymol that has both antifungal and antibacterial properties that can effectively treat toenail fungus. To use it, apply the oregano oil twice everyday using a cotton swab.
- Olive leaf extract: The active ingredient in olive oil extract called oleuropein contains both antimicrobial and immune-boosting properties. This extract can be used topically by applying it on the affected toenail. It can also be taken orally in capsule form, which is more effective than topical application. Usually, 2 or 3 olive leaf capsules are taken with meals twice daily. You need to take plenty of water throughout the treatment.
- Ozonized oils: These are oils that are prepared by adding ozone gas to oils such as sunflower oil or olive oil. The oils are then applied on the affected toenail. The ozone exposure in low concentrations for a short period effectively inhibits fungi, yeast, and bacteria. To use this treatment, apply the ozonized oil two times a day.
- Vinegar: This home remedy can be used to treat toenail fungus at home. To use it, add one part of vinegar to two parts of warm water and soak the affected foot for about 20 minutes every day.
- Listerine: The ingredients of Listerine include menthol, thymol, and eucalyptus, which has both antibacterial and antifungal properties. To use it, soak the affected foot in a wash basin with amber-colored Listerine for about 30 minutes every day.
- Garlic: Garlic contains both antifungal and antibacterial properties that can effectively treat toenail fungus. To use it, apply crushed cloves of garlic on the affected toenail for about 30 minutes every day. Instead, you can take garlic capsules, which will also enable you to do away with the smell of garlic on your toenails.
- Diet therapy: This is an approach is aimed at providing healthier foods to fight infections, including toenail fungus. Factor in plenty of the following foods in your diet to make your body healthier and stronger agonist fungal infections:
- probiotic-rich yogurt
- Adequate protein to support nail regrowth
- Adequate iron to prevent brittle nails
- Foods with essential fatty acids
- Foods that contain plenty of calcium and vitamin D, such as dairy products
Toenail Fungus Treatment and Cure
Various procedures and cures may be used to treat toenail fungus. Usually, the choice of the treatment depends on various factors, including severity and nature of the infection and whether previous treatments have failed to cure it.
The usual initial treatment may involve the use of over the counter or prescription toenail fungal medications. Another way of getting rid of a fungus toenail entails softening and scraping it.
However, severe cases of toenail fungus may require other medical interventions and cures such as laser therapy or complete removal the toenail. These procedures may also be used when other methods have failed to heal a fungal toenail infection.
Your doctor will always advise you on the best toenail fungus cure for you because there is no general best toenail fungus treatment. Rather, the appropriate treatment is done on the case by case basis.
1. Use of Toenail Fungus Medication
The common toenail fungus medications include both antifungal oral tablets and topical paint applications.
a) Antifungal Tablets
Antifungal tablets are taken orally once or twice per day for several months. Failure to complete your dosage may cause the infection to recur. The most common and best toenail fungus medications include:
- Terbinafine: This tablet is taken once per day for up to 12 weeks, taking one pill per day. Your doctor may recommend ‘pulse dosing’, whereby you take it once for a week but don’t take for the rest of the month.
- Itraconazole: This anti-fungal medication may be taken for up to 18 months and the pulse dosing method can be used. Alternative medications for this drug are fluconazole and ketoconazole, which work in a similar way. However, all the drugs produced different reactions for different people and your doctor will choose the appropriate one for you.
- Griseofulvin: This tablet is taken twice per day until the toenail infection is cleared up. In most cases, it the treatment takes up to 18 months to eliminate and prevent re-infection.
The antifungal medications for toenail infection may cause some side effects, the common ones being headache, itching and diarrhea, rashes on body and loss sense of taste.
b) Antifungal Nail Paint or Polish
Instead of antifungal tablets, you may opt for topical antifungal nail paint or polish. This treatment is also carried out for several months to treat the toenail fungus.
Although it generally does not cause any side effect, it might not be as effective as oral antifungal tablets because it might fail to penetrate and reach the deeper layers of the affected toenail.
2. Softening and Scraping Away the Toenail
Treating toenail fungus may be difficult because the topical medication may not be able to penetrate the toenail to destroy the fungi. A better alternative for such cases is to use the technique that involves softening and scraping away the infected areas of the toenail. The scrapped parts are then gradually replaced by a healthy nail tissues.
Softening the thickened and hardened toenail is facilitates easy scrapping. Usually, the procedure is carried out using a toenail treatment kit with 40% urea paste, plasters, and a scraping device. The treatment kit can be obtained from pharmacies or drug stores over-the-counter.
Use the following procedure for this treatment:
- Wash your feet and dry them thoroughly
- Carefully apply the paste to the infected toenails
- Wrap the nails with the plasters and leave them for 24 hours
- Wash off the urea paste and carefully scrape away the now soft parts of the affected toenail
- Repeat this procedure every day for about two or three weeks to get rid of the toenail fungus
After removing all the infected parts of the toenail, apply an appropriate antifungal nail paint to prevent reinfection of the nail as it regrows for the next few months. You can ask your doctor to suggest the right antifungal nail paint for you.
3. Laser Treatment for Toenail Fungus
You can also use laser therapy to get rid of toenail fungus, although currently there is not enough research evidence that recommends it as a routine treatment.
Laser treatment is an option that is used especially for stubborn fungal toenail infections. It entails using a light that is emitted by a laser machine to destroy the fungus in the toenail, thereby healing it.
4. Treatment by Complete Toenail Removal
Although it may not usually necessary, your doctor may recommend a complete removal of the affected toenail by surgical means. This depends on the condition of the infection and may be necessary if the toenail infection is severe and causes pain or other treatments have failed to cure it.
After removal, a new nail will eventually develop, although it might take quite a long time. Normally, it can take up to up to one or more years for the nail to fully grow back.
Toenail Fungus Care
When you have toenail fungus, you need to care for before, during or after treatment so as to make it heal faster. Proper toenail fungus care is also intended to prevent the fungal infection from spreading to other toenails or areas of your body, or to other people.
The common and effective fungus toenail care practices include observing the following measures before during and after and treatment.
- Wash your feet regularly: Was your feet regularly with soap, preferably antifungal soap. This will destroy and prevent the fungi from flourishing and spreading and worsen your toenail fungus condition.
- Keep your feet dry: Since fungi prefer damp places, keeping your feet dry will discourage them and help heal the infection fast. Always dry your feet thoroughly after a shower. You can also give them some time to air-dry before putting on your footwear.
- Trim your toenails: Clip your toenails short to prevent the fungi from flourishing under the front protrusion of the toenail. Always use different pair clippers or tools for the healthy and for infected toenails.
- Clean your toenail tools: Keep your toenail tools such as clippers, files or scalpels clean. Sterilize them using rubbing alcohol regularly, especially before and after use. This will minimize chances of contracting toenail fungus.
- Avoid toenail polish: Never cover the fungal infected toenails with toenail polish. This might stop them from breathing naturally. This is likely to encourage the fungi and worsen the condition.
- Treat Athletes Foot: In case you are suffering from athlete’s foot, treat it as soon as possible. Otherwise, treating toenail fungus without getting rid of athlete’s foot will be futile as the fungi will again infect the toenail.
- Use natural and well-fitting footwear: Always wear well-fitting shoes and socks made of natural or recommended materials, particularly cotton socks. This is to allow proper air circulation so that your feet to ‘breathe’ and discourage sweating and dampness.
- Avoid sharing items: Never share items such as nail tools, clippers and files, towels, clothes and especially footwear such as socks and shoes. By doing this, you may spread the infection to others or get it from others even during or after treatment.
- Avoid walking barefoot: Do not walk barefoot in public places, especially pools, showers, or other damp places. Always use special shower shoes to protect your feet when taking a bath.
Toenail Fungus Complications
Very severe cases of toenail fungus may cause permanent damage to your toenails. Furthermore, severe toenail fungus can lead to infections that spread beyond your toenails or feet.
This especially happens when you have a poor immune system caused by various conditions, including diabetes. Diabetes reduces blood circulation and nervous system, subjecting you to the risk of a serious bacterial skin infection called cellulitis.
How to Prevent Toenail Fungus
Whether you have ever suffered from fungal toenail infection or not, you need to take
measures to avoid contracting it. The measures revolve around keeping your feet clean and dry, and protecting them from suspicious items or places. They include the following:
- Always keep your feet clean and dry. In case you happen to step in damp place, wash your feet immediately with antifungal soap and dry them thoroughly.
- Use proper footwear items. Your footwear should be well-fitting and made from natural materials that allow breathing in your feet. This will stop the growth and spread of fungi.
- Avoid sharing items: Sharing items such as toenail tools (clippers and files), socks or shoes may cause foot fungal diseases, including toenail fungus to spread to other people. Also, avoid sharing clothes and towels.
- Avoid walking barefoot: Walking barefoot especially in damp public places such as bathrooms, swimming pools may subject your feet to fungal infections, including toenail fungus.
- Treat any fungal foot diseases: Treat foot infections such as athlete’s foot as soon as possible before the fungi spread and attack your toenails.
- Use clean toenail tools: Always clean and sterilize toenail tools such as clippers, scalpels, and files using rubbing alcohol before using them
- Trim your toenails short: Always cut your toenails short. This will eliminate the possibility of fungus thriving under the protrusion of the toenails and hence minimize chances of developing toenail fungus.
- Check your Toes regularly: Check your feet, toes, and toenails regularly in order to spot any changes at the earliest opportunity. It is easier to treat fungal infections at an earlier stage, especially before your toenails get infected. Do this routinely at least once per month.
When to See a Doctor Over Toenail Fungus
The cause of your toenail fungal infection might be an underlying health problem. In some cases, it might just be too severe and hence difficult to get rid of it at home, although there are no underlying problems.
You may want to see a doctor over toenail fungus for further examination, advice, diagnosis, and treatment. After all, there are many other health problems that may cause signs and symptoms similar to those of toenail fungus. Therefore, see your doctor in case the following happens:
- If the self-care steps and home remedies have not helped you deal with the toenail fungus
- The signs and symptoms such as discoloration, thickening, and deformation of your toenails become worse with time despite treatment with over-the-counter or prescription medications.
- If you also have other signs and symptoms that may suggest underlying conditions such as diabetes or poor immunity system that could be complicating treatment or aggravating your toenail fungus condition.
Sources and References
- Nail fungus: http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/nail-fungus/symptoms-causes/dxc-20342473
- Nail fungus: https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/contagious-skin-diseases/nail-fungus#treatment
- If you’ve got toenail fungus, you’re not alone: http://www.jubliarx.com/about-toenail-fungus
- Treatments for a fungal nail infection: http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Fungal-nail-infection/Pages/Treatment.aspx
- Fungal Nails: http://www.medicinenet.com/fungal_nails/article.htm
- Toenail Fungus Treatment: 3 Steps to Get Rid of It Fast! https://draxe.com/toenail-fungus-treatment/
- How to Handle Toenail Fungus: http://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/ss/slideshow-toenail-fungus
- 3 Simple Home Remedies for Toenail Fungus: http://everydayroots.com/how-to-get-rid-of-toenail-fungus
- Try One of These 10 Home Remedies for Toenail Fungus: http://www.healthline.com/health/home-remedies-for-toenail-fungus
- How to Get Rid of Toenail Fungus Permanently: https://www.yellowtoenailscured.com/how-to-get-rid-toenail-fungus-permanently/
- What is the Best Toenail Fungus Treatment? http://www.nice-feet.net/what-is-the-best-toenail-fungus-treatment/