Toenail fungus, also known as onychomycosis, is perhaps one of the most common nail disorders. It is a fungal infection that penetrates through chinks in your toenail, cuts in the surrounding skin, or the separation between the nail and the toe, and affects the material below the toenail. The fungus tends to thrive in certain conditions, such as abnormal body pH, a weakened immune system, continuous exposure to a moist environment including sweaty shoes and socks, poor hygiene, and diabetes.(1)
As embarrassing as this condition may be, simply camouflaging your unsightly toenail, such as painting your nails, without tending to it properly would do you more harm than good. If the infection goes untreated long enough, it could spread to the adjoining skin, to the other toenails, and even perhaps to your fingernails.(2)
Causes of Toenail Fungus
- Onychomycosis stems from a number of fungal pathogens, primarily a certain group of fungi known as dermatophytes. Other relatively less common carriers of this infection are yeast and mold.(3)
- Your susceptibility to this type of infection increases with age as older people tend to have increasingly brittle and dry nails that may allow the fungus to slip in through the cracks.
- Direct skin-to-skin contact with people grappling with fungal infections like athlete’s foot or ringworm on their hands can transmit the fungus onto you, paving the way for a toenail infection.
- A warm, moist environment such as a pool deck or a locker room provide the ideal breeding grounds for these infection-causing fungi. Therefore, people who walk barefoot in such areas tend to pick up this infection quite easily.
- Another common way of catching a fungal nail infection is by sharing an infected nail clipper or towel.
- Moreover, people who are prone to having moisture-ridden nails or often wear sweaty socks and shoes are increasingly predisposed to getting a fungal nail infection all by themselves.
Health: You have a greater chance of contracting a fungal nail infection if you suffer from one or more of the following issues:
- Other fungal skin infections, such as athlete’s foot or ringworm
- Previous affliction with a nail infection
- Nail injury or recent nail surgery
- A family history of nail infections
- Poor blood circulation
- Cancer and receiving chemotherapy
- Have had an organ transplant
- Comprised immunity due to a disease such as human immunodeficiency syndrome (HIV)
Lifestyle: Fungal nail infection is more prevalent among people who:
- Frequently have damp feet or hands throughout the day
- Cracked nails
- Spend a lot of time in the water
- Are prone to walking barefoot in hot, humid places, such as a pool, public shower, or locker room.
- Have feet that perspire a lot and wear tight-fitting, closed-toe shoes that don’t let the feet breathe.
Symptoms of Toenail Fungus
Symptoms of toenail fungal infection may include:
- Thickened or crumbled nail
- Whitish to yellow-brown discoloration
- Increasingly brittle, crumbly, or ragged nail
- Nail that appears warped or distorted in shape
- Nail that appears dull without any luster
- Dark color, caused by the accumulation of debris under your nail
- Slightly foul odor in the affected area
Toenail fungal infections are typically painless or at least start off that way. But without proper self-care and treatment, the condition can spiral into a more severe case of nail fungus, which can be painful and may cause irretrievable damage to your nails. Moreover, the toenail infection can sprout other serious infections that can spread beyond your feet, particularly if you have a suppressed immune system due to certain medications, diabetes, or other conditions.
Because people with diabetes are already predisposed to reduced blood circulation and nerve supply in their feet, their odds for catching toenail infections as well as bacterial skin infection (cellulitis) are quite high.(4) Thus, it is imperative for people with diabetes to seek professional medical help for any seemingly minor foot injury – including a nail fungal infection – to avoid any future complications.
Prevention of Toenail Fungus
Adopting a few preventive measures can mitigate your chances of getting infected by nail fungus or reinfections as well as athlete’s foot (which can lead to nail fungus):
- Keep your hands and feet clean by washing them regularly. Be especially mindful of avoiding contact with an infected nail, and in case you do, wash your hands thoroughly. Moisturize your nails after washing.
- Keep your nails properly trimmed, file the rough edges to make them smooth, and file down thickened areas. Make a habit of disinfecting your nail clippers thereafter.
- Wear socks that absorb perspiration or change your socks throughout the day.
- Wear shoes made of materials that breathe.
- Let go of any old shoes or treat them with disinfectants or antifungal powders. Alternatively, consider using a medicated shoe spray after every use.
- Either carry your own manicure tools when visiting a nail salon or opt for a salon that uses sterilized tools for each customer.
- Abstain from using nail polish and artificial nails.
- Wearing shower footwear in hotels, gyms, public pools, and showers is essential to prevent reinfection.
When to See a Doctor
Despite optimum self-care, if the condition continues to persist or worsen such that the nail becomes increasingly discolored, thickened or deformed, and painful or starts spreading further, consult your doctor or podiatrist. People with diabetes, on the other hand, must seek medical assistance as soon as they suspect a fungal infection taking shape in their toenail.
If left untreated, toenail fungus can cause cracking, splitting, and even complete loss of the toenail. The infection can also spread to the nails of the hand. Fortunately, toenail fungus is curable and can be treated inexpensively. Various natural home remedies can cure the infection.
Here are the top 10 remedies to fight toenail fungus at home.
1. Ozonated Oil
The much-touted ability of ozonated oils, such as olive oil or sunflower oil, to render fungus, yeast, and bacteria inactive has been common knowledge for centuries. These oils are produced by reacting ozone (O3) with oil, and they contain compounds with significant medicinal effects that are responsible for their success against toenail fungus.(5)(6)
While all ozonated oils are “injected” with ozone gas and are effective against this condition, sunflower oil is known to yield the best results.
Rub a small amount of this oil onto your toes two times a day to stop the toenail fungus in its tracks.
2. Tea Tree Oil
- Mix a few drops of tea tree oil in one teaspoon of olive oil or coconut oil.
- Use a cotton ball to apply the mixture on to the affected toenail.
- Leave it on for 10 minutes, and then use a toothbrush to gently scrub the affected nail.
- Repeat this twice or thrice daily until you are satisfied with the results.
3. Baking Soda
Baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) is a readily available staple in most kitchens that can also be used to cure toenail fungus.(8) Besides, it also works well to neutralize the foul odor emanating from the infected nail.
- Add 1/2 cup of baking soda, 1/4 cup of 3% hydrogen peroxide, and 1/2 cup of Epsom salt to 4 cups of hot water. Mix the ingredients thoroughly, and then add 1/4 cup of white vinegar to it.
- Soak the infected toenail in this solution for about 10 minutes.
- Wash your foot with clean water and dry it thoroughly.
- Repeat the process twice daily for several weeks.
4. White Vinegar
White vinegar is one of the best ingredients in treating toenail fungus because it fights the infection and helps restore the skin’s pH balance.
- Make a solution by mixing 1 part of white vinegar with 2 parts of warm water.
- Soak the infected toenail in this solution for 10 to 15 minutes.
- Rinse it off and rid the affected area of any remnant moisture by thoroughly drying it.
- Repeat twice daily until the fungus is gone.
5. Oil of Oregano
Oil of oregano (Origanum) has antiseptic, antibacterial, antiparasitic, antiviral, analgesic, and antifungal properties.(9)
- Mix two drops of oil of oregano in 1 teaspoon of olive oil.
- Apply this mixture on the affected nail.
- Leave it on for at least 30 minutes.
- Then, rinse it off and dry your toes thoroughly.
- Repeat once or twice daily for three weeks to see positive results.
6. Vicks VapoRub
A study published in the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine demonstrates the effectiveness of Vicks VapoRub in the treatment of toenail fungus.(10) The ointment is comprised of a variety of ingredients that possess antifungal activity.
Use a cotton swab to apply a small amount of Vicks VapoRub ointment to the infected toenail daily.
Garlic contains compounds such as allicin and ajoene that have antifungal properties that can help treat toenail fungus.(11)
- Mix garlic oil with an equal amount of white vinegar.
- Apply this mixture on and around the infected toenail and cover the toe with a bandage thereafter.
- Leave it on for a few hours before removing the bandage.
- Repeat daily until the infection clears. (If garlic oil is not available, you can whip up your own by frying two crushed garlic cloves in 2 tablespoons of olive oil and then straining the oil.)
- You can also eat one or two crushed garlic cloves
8. Lemon Juice
Lemon juice has both antiseptic and antifungal properties.(12) The citric acid present in lemon juice helps stop the toenail fungus from spreading.
- Apply fresh lemon juice on the infected toenail. Leave it on for about 30 minutes before rinsing it off with warm water.
- Another option is to mix equal amounts of lemon juice and olive oil and use this mixture to massage the infected area. Leave it on for a few hours before rinsing it off. Dry your toes thoroughly. The olive oil helps make your skin softer, while the lemon juice helps keep the fungal infections in check.
Use either of these remedies a few times daily for one month or longer until positive results begin to show.
9. Lavender Oil
Lavender oil has several volatile compounds and antiseptic properties that can fight any kind of infection and prevent skin irritation.(13)
- Mix five drops each of lavender oil and tea tree oil.
- Use a cotton ball to apply this solution under the top edge of the affected toenail and the surrounding areas.
- Leave it on for at least 10 minutes, rinse it off, and dry your toes thoroughly thereafter.
- Repeat two or three times a day.
10. Orange Oil
Orange oil contains the chemical limonene that has antifungal properties and can be used to treat toenails infected with fungus.(14) Orange oil can cause allergic reactions and can have various side effects, so it is important to test a small amount of orange oil on a spot of skin prior to using this remedy.
- Use a dropper to apply pure orange oil between your toes and on and under your toenails. If you have sensitive skin, then dilute the essential oil with an equal amount of carrier oil, such as grape seed oil.
- Let it sit for at least 30 minutes.
- Repeat two or three times daily until you see an improvement.
The effectiveness of these natural remedies depends on proper use and application. Give these remedies time of at least one or two months to engender positive results. Adhering to these self-care methods with patience and persistence will see you through this discomforting toenail infection and prevent further complications.
- You can also use snakeroot extract,(14) olive leaf extract,(15) or Listerine to treat toenail fungus.
- Incorporate probiotic-rich yogurt into your diet to combat the fungal infection from within.
- Maintain adequate protein intake to support nail regrowth.
- Make sure you have sufficient iron in your diet to prevent brittle nails.
- Up your intake of essential fatty acids as well as foods rich in calcium and vitamin D, such as low-fat dairy products.
- Toenail Fungus . American Podiatric Medical Association. https://www.apma.org/Patients/FootHealth.cfm?ItemNumber=1523.
- Ghannoum M, Isham N. Fungal Nail Infections (Onychomycosis): A Never-Ending Story? PLoS Pathogens. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4047123/. Published June 5, 2015.
- Muth CC. Fungal Nail Infection. JAMA. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2600469. Published February 7, 2017.
- Roujeau JC, Sigurgeirsson B, Korting HC, Kerl H, Paul C. Chronic dermatomycoses of the foot as risk factors for acute bacterial cellulitis of the leg: a case-control study. Dermatology. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15539893. Published 2004.
- Menéndez S, Falcón L, Maqueira Y. Therapeutic efficacy of topical OLEOZON® in patients suffering from onychomycosis. Mycoses. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1439-0507.2010.01898.x. Published May 17, 2010.
- Heateh P, Scher RK, Lipner S. Over-the-counter and Natural Remedies for Onychomycosis: Do They Really Work? Onychomycosis Treatments. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/311734077. Published November 2016.
- Hammer KA, Carson CF, Riley TV. Antifungal activity of the components of Melaleuca alternifolia (tea tree) oil. Journal of Applied Microbiology. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12969301. Published 2003.
- Letscher-Bru V, Obszynski CM, Samson M, Sabou M, Waller J, Candolfi E. Antifungal Activity of Sodium Bicarbonate Against Fungal Agents Causing Superficial Infections. Mycopathologia. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11046-012-9583-2. Published February 2013.
- Manohar V, Ingram C, Preuss HG. Anti-fungal activities of Origanum oil against Candida albicans. Molecular and Cellular Biochemistry. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/227136968. Published January 2001.
- Derby R, Rohal P, Jackson C, Beutler A. Novel Treatment of Onychomycosis using Over-the-Counter Mentholated Ointment: A Clinical Case Series. The Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine. http://www.jabfm.org/content/24/1/69.full. Published 2011.
- Suleiman EA, Abdallah WB. In vitro Activity of Garlic (Allium sativum) on Some Pathogenic Fungi. European Journal of Medicinal Plants. http://www.sciencedomain.org/abstract/5330. Published January 15, 2014.
- Kadi SE-. EFFECT OF SOME ORGANIC ACIDS ON SOME FUNGAL GROWTH AND THEIR TOXINS PRODUCTION. International Journal of Advances in Biology. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/273061896. Published February 2015.
- Lavender oil has a potent antifungal effect. Society for General Microbiology. https://phys.org/news/2011-02-lavender-oil-potent-antifungal-effect.html. Published February 15, 2011.
- Unal MU, uçan F, şener A. Research on antifungal and inhibitory effects of DL-limonene on some yeasts. Turkish Journal of Agriculture and Forestry. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/278141756. Published January 2012.
- Parashar B, Yadav V, Maurya B. Natural Therapy of Fungal Nail Disease: Review. The Pharma Innovation Journal. http://www.thepharmajournal.com/vol1Issue4/5.html. Published 2012.