How much attention do you pay to your toenails? A great deal of us takes them for granted and don’t notice very much about them. However, there is a condition that affects a lot of toenails, especially for older adults. It is the toenail fungus.
Toenail fungus is particularly common. Medical experts estimate that toenail fungus affects 1 in 10 (10%) individuals overall. The number increases to 1 in 2 (50%) for individuals older than 70.
What is the Toenail Fungus?
Toenail fungus, also known as onychomycosis (on-ih-koh-my-KOH-sis), is a widespread fungal infection of the toenails. The most obvious symptom is a white, brown, or yellow stain of one or more of the toenails. It may well spread and cause the nails to thicken or crack. Less frequently, nail fungus can infect the fingernails.
What Causes the Toenail Fungus?
The most frequent trigger is a kind of fungus called dermatophyte. Yeast and molds as well can initiate nail infections. Fungal nail infections may occur in individuals at any age however, it is more prevalent in older adults. As the fungus progresses, the nail can become brittle and dry.
Dermatophytes are microscopic fungal microorganisms that are too small to see with the naked eye. They receive their nourishment off keratin, which is a protein found in fingernails and toenails. Keratin is what causes nails to be hard.
Several varieties of toenail fungi are rather contagious. An unhygienic individual can extend the fungus to another individual through direct contact. An individual can additionally get toenail fungus by touching an infected surface.
Nail fungi benefit from lukewarm, damp, dark places. Many individuals contract toenail fungus by:
- Walking around the outer limits s of swimming pools.
- Exercising a public shower or public locker room.
- Walking barefoot in an open area.
The Risk Factors for Toenail Fungus
Some factors that can increase the risk of cultivating toenail fungus include:
- Being older, as a result of reduced blood flow, increased years of exposure to fungi, and nails that grow slower.
- Having athlete’s foot in the past
- Having a minor nail or skin injury or a skin circumstance, for example, psoriasis
- Developing diabetes, having circulation problems, or a weakened or destabilized immune system.
- Perspiring heavily
- Walking barefoot in damp public areas, like swimming pools, gyms, and shower rooms.
Toenail fungus can spread to other parts of the body but it usually does not spread beyond the toes. Several dermatophyte fungi can spread easily to the skin. (The skin and scalp also contain keratin.) When dermatophyte fungi relate to the skin, it is called ringworm.
Toenail fungus can spread to:
- Groin area (known as jock itch).
- Additional toenails.
- Scalp (skin on top of the head).
- The skin between your toes (known as athlete’s foot).
Anyone can become infected with toenail fungus although it often affects older adults, especially individuals over the age of 60.
There is a higher risk of developing toenail fungus if an individual has:
- Athlete’s foot
- Weakened immune system from an autoimmune disorder or HIV.
- Poor blood circulation because of peripheral vascular disease.
- Nail wound or injury.
- Hyperhidrosis (a disorder that causes heavy sweating)
Symptoms of the Toenail Fungus
An individual may have toenail fungus if one or more of these symptoms exist
- A dark color, produced by debris building up under the nail
- Frail, crumbly, or ragged nail (s).
- Indistinct in shape
- Slightly foul odor
- Thickened nail (s)
- Whitish to yellow-brown discoloration (mentioned above)
Complications of the Toenail Fungus
An acute case of nail fungus can be painful and possibly will cause permanent damage to the nails. Additionally, it could lead to other serious infections that spread beyond the feet if an individual has a suppressed immune system due to the utilization of medications, diabetes or, other medical conditions. For more information on inflammation, see the article, The Dangers of inflammation, on this website.
If an individual has diabetes, he or she may have reduced blood flow and nerve supply in their feet. They are additionally at greater risk of a bacterial skin infection known as cellulitis. Therefore, any relatively minor injury to the feet, including a toenail fungal infection, can lead to a more serious problem. If an individual has diabetes and believes they are developing toenail fungus it is highly advisable to see a health care professional.
Toenail fungus can change an individual’s toenail appearance in several ways. The toenail may:
- Change color, appearing white, yellow, or brown.
- Appear chalky or cloudy in some spots.
- Thicken and possibly appear to look misshapen.
- Breakaway from the nail bed (leaving space between the nail and the skin underneath).
While toenail fungus can be unattractive in appearance, it usually is not painful.
Treating the Toenail Fungus
Prescription drugs for the toenail fungus include oral antifungals, for example, terbinafine which is known as Lamisil, or fluconazole known as Diflucan, which are traditionally used to treat this condition. These treatments are commonly effective; however, they can cause serious side effects ranging from upset stomach and dizziness to severe skin problems and jaundice.
This may be the reason many individuals endeavor to try home remedies instead. Here are some of the more popular at-home treatments.
What is the most effective treatment for toenail fungus? Vicks Vapor Rub is the best home remedy – Vicks VapoRub is an ointment that is applied topically. Although it is intended for cough suppression, its most active ingredients, eucalyptus oil, and camphor can help treat the toenail fungus.
A 2011 study concluded that this Rub had a “positive clinical effect” in the healing of toenail fungus.
To use, rub on a tiny amount of Vicks VapoRub to the affected area at least once a day.
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– Snakeroot (Ageratina pichinchensis) is an antifungal extract taken from plants in the sunflower family.
A 2008 study indicated that the treatment is as effective against toenail fungus as the prescription antifungal medicine ciclopirox.
For the study, snakeroot extract was applied to the affected area every 3rd day for the first month, twice a week for the 2nd month, and once a week for the 3rd month.
Tea Tree Oil – Tea tree oil, also known as melaleuca, is an essential oil with antifungal and antiseptic abilities.
According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, some minor scale clinical studies indicated that tea tree oil might be effective against toenail fungus.
To use, apply the tea tree oil exactly onto the infected nail twice daily with a cotton swab.
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Oregano Oil – Oregano oil contains thymol, a medical disinfectant, and fungicide. Based on a 2016 review, thymol has antifungal and antibacterial properties.
To treat toenail fungus, apply oregano oil to the infected nail twice daily with a cotton swab. Some individuals use oregano oil and tea tree oil combined.
Take note that both products are potent and can trigger irritation or an allergic reaction. Using them together may increase this risk.
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Olive leaf extract – Oleuropein, an active substance in olive leaf extract, is considered to have antimicrobial, antifungal, and immune-boosting abilities.
Olive leaf salve can be applied directly to toenail fungus or taken orally in capsule form.
According to a 2012 review, taking 1 to 3 olive leaf capsules with meals twice a day is more effective than olive leaf salve in treating toenail fungus. It is recommended to drink plenty of water throughout this treatment.
Ozonized oils – Ozonized oils are oils such as olive oil and sunflower oil that are injected with ozone gas.
According to a 2011 study, this type of ozone exposure in low amounts for a short period can then disable many organisms like fungi, yeast, and bacteria.
Another study found ozonized sunflower oil was noticeable more successful in treating toenail fungus than the prescription antifungal topical, ketoconazole (Xolegel).
To treat toenail fungus with ozonized oil, massage the oil into the infected toenail twice a day.
Vinegar – Only vague evidence has surfaced that supports vinegar as a treatment for toenail fungus. Nevertheless, it is a reasonably safe home remedy to try.
To use, soak the infected foot in one (1) part vinegar to two (2) parts warm water for up to 20 minutes a day.
Listerine (mouthwash) – Listerine mouthwash is a popular folk remedy for toenail fungus because it contains ingredients like menthol, thymol, and eucalyptus, that have antibacterial and antifungal properties.
The recommended treatment is to soak the infected foot in a basin of the amber-colored version of Listerine for 30 minutes a day.
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Garlic – A 2009 review has concluded that garlic has certain antifungal and antimicrobial capabilities.
Toenail fungus may be treated with garlic by placing chopped or crushed garlic cloves on the infected area for 30 minutes a day.
It may be less of an odor by treating it with garlic capsules. Take them as directed by the manufacturer.
Diet – The relationship between diet and health is evident: The healthier we eat, the better chance the body has to fight off conditions such as toenail fungus.
Give the body the nutrients it requires by eating:
- A diet loaded in essential fatty acids
- Enough iron to avoid brittle nails
- Enough protein to sustain nail regrowth
- Foods rich in calcium and vitamin D, like low-fat dairy products
- Yogurt rich in Probiotics
How to Prevent Toenail Fungus
While there is not any way to guarantee against contracting toenail fungus, there are several steps an individual can take to assist in preventing it:
- Avoid walking without shoes in communal areas for example locker rooms, public showers, hotel rooms/showers, and swimming pools. Most individuals come in contact with fungus in these situations. It is better to wear some kind of foot covering in these public areas.
- If there is a family member with foot fungus or nail fungus, it is best to use a different shower or wear foot coverings in the shower to avoid coming in contact with the fungus.
- Trauma due to accidental or forceful cutting of the nails can turn into gateways of entry for the fungus.
- Clean the nail clipper before using it.
- Never tear or rip a toenail on purpose.
- For individuals with diabetes, follow all foot care recommendations from your healthcare professional.
- Always keep the feet dry. Make sure to fully dry the feet after a shower.
- It is best to soak toenails in warm water before cutting them. Alternatively, cut them after a shower or bath.
- Cut toenails straight across (don’t round the edges).
- Wear shoes that fit properly. They should never be too loose-fitting or tight around the toes.
Home remedies can be more successful than prescription medications in curing mild-to-moderate toenail fungus. Although home remedies in general have fewer side effects, there is less scientific proof that they work.
Many factors come into play when mitigating toenail fungus, such as nail penetration, the severity of the infection, and health overall.
It is important to note that home remedies can take longer to eradicate toenail fungus than prescription topical medications or oral systemic antifungals. Additionally, results may not be seen for several months and reinjection is common.
Once the infection is gone, it is imperative to keep toenails dry, clean, and rimmed properly.
In severe cases of toenail fungus, pain, and irreversible toenail damage can occur. If home remedies to treat the infection are chosen and they are not effective or result in side effects, consult your physician.
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