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Toenail Fungus

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1. What is Toenail Fungus?

Toenail fungus is a common infection that gets in through cuts in the skin or cracks in the nails.

It can make the toe nails hurt, change color or get thicker. Since toes are often damp and warm, they can make a very conducive breeding environment for fungus.

It usually begins as a yellow or white spot beneath the tip of your toenails or finger nails. As the infection gets deeper, the condition may lead to discoloration of the nails, thickening and crumbling, especially at the edges.

The infection can spread from one nail to the other. However, it rarely affects all of them simultaneously. If the infection is mild and not disturbing you, then you might not require treatment.

However, if it the condition has led to thickened and painful nails, then you will require medical attention immediately, before it spreads deeper.

2. What Does Toenail Fungus Look Like?

Once your toenails have been infected by this fungus, they usually appear warped, oddly shaped or even thicker than usual. The thickening of the nails is due to overproduction of keratin, which is caused by this condition. The can also crumble and break easily. Infected nails usually appear yellowish or whitish, again depending on the extent of the condition. Newly infected nails normally appear whitish or powdery at the edges.

As the condition worsens, discoloration occurs, and the nails become yellow. The nails then turn dark, due to buildup of debris under the nails. Sometimes, you might notice a white dot appearing on the nails, which then gets bigger with time, as the infection spreads. If you allow the fungus to build under your nails, your nails can become loose or even separated from the bed.

In certain situations, the infection also spreads to the skin surrounding the nails. Another symptom of toenail fungus is darkened nails appearing dull and lacking shine. You may detect a slightly bad odor or some pain. Other visible signs of this infection include scaling beneath the nails, which is normally caused by subungual hyperkeratosis as well as visible pits on the nails.

3. What Causes Toenail Fungus?

As previously indicated, toenail fungus is a very common disorder. More than 50% of all toenail infections can be attributed to this fungus. Just like the name implies, the condition is caused by fungi, which infect the nails. They thrive in warm and moist conditions and normally feed on keratin. Keratin is the major protein in your hair, skin and nails.

Since they feed off keratin, toenail fungus causes overproduction of keratin, sufficient to sustain their survival. The overly produced keratin leads to thickening of the nails, and separation afterwards. There are more than 200 types of fungi on your feet. These are much more than other parts of the body. The good news is that, not all of them are harmful. Yeasts and dermatophytes are the two major types of fungi, which lead to nail infections. In temperate regions, dermatophytes are the main causes of toenail fungus while yeasts thrive better in the tropics.

Additionally, yeasts are more likely to cause fingernails infections. Mold can also cause fungal infections especially in the tropics. There are certain factors that toenail infections. They include:

Fungal Skin Infection

Fungal skin infection can lead to athlete’s foot. Once you are infected, you will experience itching, especially in the skin between the toe nails. Athlete’s foot is a main cause of toenail fungus. More than a third of people suffering from athlete’s foot usually end up with toenail fungus. Both toenail fungus and athlete’s foot are caused by dermatophytes. The infection can quickly spread from your skin to your toenails.

Damaged Skin or Nails

Old injuries, repeated trauma, nail biting as well as tiny cuts especially around your toenails can escalate the risk of this infection. Once your cuticles have been damaged, they are at a higher risk of being infected, if your hands remain in water for long. For example, if your work involves hand washing dishes and you have damaged skin or cuticles, then you are at risk of being infected.

Exposure to Humidity and Moisture

Fungi love moist and warm environments. They thrive in public showers and swimming pools. Research indicates that swimmers are at higher risk of contracting the infection, as compared to others. Toenail fungus also spreads fast. Therefore walking barefoot in dressing rooms or using public showers puts you at a greater risk of contracting the infection from others.

Medications and Diseases

If you have a weakened immune system because of using antibiotics or steroids or due to various illnesses, you are also at a risk of getting toenail fungus. AIDs, cancer, inflammatory bowel disease, poor circulation or even diabetes have all been linked with an increased risk of toenail fungus infections.

Tight Footwear

This fungus mostly thrives in toenails due to the moist, warm and dark conditions provided by the shoes. Moreover, shoes limit good circulation in the feet. As a result, the immune system finds it very hard to quickly detect and fight such infections. Wearing sweaty, tight-fitting shoes as well as exposing the toenails to repeated trauma is one of the major reasons why athletes suffer from this fungal infection.


Toenail fungus is more common in people in the ages of 50 to 70 than their younger counterparts. This is mainly because senior citizens have thicker nails, which take a longer period to grow. They also have poor circulation generally, limiting the ability of the body to detect and fight such infections early.

4. Why is Toenail Fungus Painful?

Toenail fungus or is not painful during the early stages. It is only embarrassing and ugly, especially due to the distorted or discolored toe nails. However, if you fail to attend to it soon enough, it leads to swelling and pain. Mostly, onychomycosis or toenail fungus causes crumbling, thickening or discoloration as well as a bad odor emanating from the feet. If the smell starts becoming unbearable, then the infection has spread and that is where you start experiencing pain.

Toenail fungus is painful due to two major reasons. First, once the toenails thicken, they start getting separated from the bed, and that is when you start experiencing pain. Secondly, apart from that, the skin around the infected toes usually becomes swollen and red. This normally leads to pain in the toes, as well as the infected foot.

5. How to Cure Toenail Fungus Fast?

If left untreated, toenail fungus can become a serious infection, which can even affect your day to day life. The longer you leave it untreated, the worse it gets. In fact, you can completely lose your toenails or they may have to be surgically removed by a dermatologist. Some fungal infections have gotten worse to a point of hindering the victim’s ability to walk. The swelling can also become so severe that you cannot wear any footwear at all. With that said, here are the common treatments available for toenail fungus.

Home Remedies

Before applying any home remedy for toenail fungus on your feet, it is recommended that you push the skin around the infected toenail back. This ensures that the applied treatment procedure is fully absorbed, thus more effective. You can use tiny scissors or a nail file, to remove the dead skin gently, and then push back the cuticles. Also, excess nails should also be trimmed to ensure maximum exposure of the infected nail bed.

Tea Tree Oil

There are numerous products in the market today, which contain tea tree oil. These can be effectively used to treat this infection and recovery occurs within a short period. Creams, balms and lotions are the most effective. If you also come across a product that has tea tree oil as the essential oil, then it will work. Apply the oil to a cotton ball, and then press the cotton at the affected area for around 10 minutes. You can even attach the cotton around the infected nails so that it keeps working as you attend to your chores. You can also mix tea tree oil with baking soda and coconut oil, then use the mixture to scrub the infected toe nails using a new toothbrush. Repeat this procedure at least 3 times per day for effective results.

Hydrogen Peroxide and Baking Soda

This is a common combination used for teeth whitening and making the toenails pinker. Mix 2 tablespoons of hydrogen peroxide, with a small quantity of baking soda, usually 1 tablespoon will be enough. Apply the paste directly to the infected toenails. Pay particular attention to the edges as well as the nail bed if it is exposed.

You may notice some bubbling immediately after applying the paste. This is a normal procedure, since the application is killing the bacteria and fungi. You can cover the paste. However, it only lasts 30 minutes. Depending on your schedule, you can apply this paste as many times as you want throughout the day. However, for best results, stick to a minimum of 3 to 4 times per day, then 2 times per day.

Fresh Garlic

Head over to the grocery store and buy some fresh garlic. Peel it to expose the clove, and then divide the clove into two slices. You will use your affected toe nail as a cheese grater. Rub the half slices of garlic repeatedly, following up and down movements on the affected toe nail. This ensures that the pulp seeps into the skin underneath the affected toenail and the fungus will have nowhere to hide. You will start noticing results within 15 to 20 days. You can also use a toothpick to pack the garlic as far as possible inside.

Vicks VapoRub

This home treatment will only be effective if the toenail fungus is in its early stages. This is when the toenails have started yellowing, curling or growing thicker. The ointment is commonly found in most drug stores. For best results, apply gently to the affected area at least 3 times per day. Before application, ensure that your feet are fully dry since it can trap moisture close to the skin, thus encouraging the fungus to continue thriving.

Professional Medical Treatment

If non-prescription and home remedies fail to produce the expected results, you medical practitioner may prescribe a combination of drugs together with other interventions. You might find relief from symptoms and signs. However, repeat infections are highly prevalent. Some of the medications currently available include:

Oral Antifungal Drugs

Itraconazole and Terbinafine are the two common medicines prescribed to treat most toenail fungus infections. They are usually taken at least twice per day for around 12 weeks. The end result is only noticeable when the toenails grow back fully. It may take around 6 months to eliminate the infection completely from the system. Ensure that you complete the prescribed dosage, to avoid recurrent of the problem.

Medicated Nail Paint

Apart from the antifungal tablets, you may be required to antifungal nail paint. It can be used in combination with the tablets or as a standalone medication. However, nail paint is not very effective as compared to tablets, since it is not able to penetrate to the deeper nail layers. It also takes longer to deal with the condition. Its main benefit is that it does not have side effects as compared to the tablets.

Medicated Nail Cream

Nail creams are also available, as an alternative treatment method of toenail fungus. Creams, lotions or gels can be applied directly to the affected nails, especially after soaking. This procedure enables the treatment to penetrate the deeper layers of the nails. For effective treatment, thin out the nails before application.

6. Which Listerine/Vinegar to Cure Toenail Fungus?

Apple cider vinegar combined with Listerine is an effective home remedy for treating toenail fungus. Although it is slightly acidic, it is still safe, since it is commonly used as a cooking ingredient. The mixture should be applied to the toenails at least four times per day. Two of those times should be early morning when the body is still fresh and just before bedtime. For the mixture, they should be used in equal measure and applied to the affected toenails for around 30 minutes. This mixture works so well due to the acidic and antiseptic properties present in the ingredients. It also removes the dead nails quickly, allowing the mixture to penetrate deeper.

7. How to Prevent Toenail Fungus in the Future?

Trying to eliminate toenail fungus after infection can be an expensive and lengthy procedure. It also tends to come back after some time. Therefore, the most effective method of dealing with the condition is to prevent or avoid any situations where you might be infected.

Some of the methods of prevention include proper nutrition and consuming a diet high in vitamin E and C, exercising and sun exposure, correctly clipping toenails, wearing the correct size and type of shoes, choosing breathable footwear, alternating your shoes to avoid buildup of bacteria, avoiding walking barefoot in public places, sprinkling the shoes using antifungal powder and disinfecting regularly using bleach-based cleansers, just to name a few.

Hygiene is of utmost importance.

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About the author


Hi, I’m Brian Bradshaw. I’m a super duper mega hiking enthusiast, with a love for everything that has to do with outdoors, hiking, gear, footwear and more.

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2 thoughts on “Toenail Fungus”

  1. Great, pretty comprehensive, and even-handed explanation of toenail fungus. I’m so tired of anti-fungal products that make guarantee and claim it’s all about their product rather than a holistic approach.


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