If your toenails have white or yellow spots or your toenail has become discolored, you may be suffering from onychomycosis, or nail fungus. Nail fungus is usually found on toenails, but can be found on fingernails as well. If left untreated, nail fungus can cause your toenails to get thick and crumble at the edge.
Most cases of nail fungus are not troublesome and you can do self-care to ensure the problem doesn’t worsen. However, if the toes are painful you may want to seek the advice of a podiatrist or your family physician.
There are treatments available. Unfortunately, nail fungus is often a battle that’s continually fought since it often returns.
Symptoms of Nail Fungus
- Brittle, crumbly or ragged nails
- Nails that have a distorted shape
- Nails that are dull
- Dark coloring caused by debris building up under the nail
In rare cases, the nails may raise up from the nail bed causing pain*.
The Cause of Nail Fungus
Nail fungus is caused by microscopic organisms that thrive in dark, damp environments. This is why the toenails are more vulnerable. Wearing shoes keeps your feet moist and in the dark. However, nail fungus can also be picked up at public pools and showers or nail salons.
Just wearing shoes isn’t enough to cause nail fungus. The fungi need an entrance which is generally found in tiny cuts around the nail bed. Since the toes have less blood flow than the fingers, the body’s immune system response isn’t as acute making nail fungus on the toes more of an issue*.
Home Treatment Options
If you think you have nail fungus, there are many treatment options you can try at home. Prevention is the number one treatment. Dry your feet thoroughly after bathing or swimming. When trimming nails, use a clean nail trimmer and cut straight across. Take care with nail cuticles and only use an orange stick to push them back. If you get pedicures, be sure all the instruments are sterile and the tub has been cleaned and sanitized before your soak.
Over-the-counter remedies such as anti-fungal creams are good for treating nail fungus. As soon as you notice fungal spots, file them off, soak your nails in warm water, dry well and apply the cream. Soaking your feet softens the nail allowing the cream to penetrate the deeper layers and attack the fungus. Be sure to keep your feet clean and dry during treatment.
While it sounds crazy, some people swear by Vicks VapoRub as a nail fungus cure. Just apply a small amount to the affect area daily with a cotton swab. In a study of 18 patients who used VapoRub, 56 percent showed partial improvement, while 17 percent showed no improvement*. If you don’t like anti-fungal medications, this is certainly worth a try.
Snakeroot extract has also shown some promise in small studies. Snakeroot comes from the sunflower family and is almost as effective as the anti-fungal drug ciclopirox*. It has a strict application schedule and treatment is done over a few months.
If home treatment doesn’t work, there are antifungal medications your doctor can prescribe. Oral antifungal drugs must be taken for six to twelve weeks and do carry the risk of side effects. Additionally, it can take four months or longer after treatment is concluded to see the final result.
There are also prescription nail polishes and creams that are applied after soaking your nails. These types of treatments often last for months since the drug needs to penetrate the nail to eliminate the fungus.
Most nail fungus is an annoyance that people put up with. Practicing good foot hygiene by washing and drying your feet, keeping your feet dry and proper clipping should keep them in good shape.
If you do encounter nail fungus, it’s not the end of the world. In most cases, a little home care will clear it up and you’ll have happy feet soon.