Nail fungus is an infection of the nail caused by dermatophyte fungi, also known as onychomycosis. This is the same type of fungus that causes common skin disorders such as athlete’s foot and ringworm. Fungi thrive and grow on keratin, which is abundant in the nail. Because there is enough keratin in the nails to sustain them, fungal infections will not go away on their own. They will continue to damage new nail tissue as it develops until you cure the infection. It’s important to recognize the symptoms of fungal toenails.
This article discusses the symptoms and signs of toenail fungus, as well as how to treat it and when to seek professional help.
Symptoms of Fungal Toenails
Toenail fungus can cause a series of health problems and it can be uncomfortable for many to talk about. Here are some symptoms of fungal toenails to be aware of:
Nail discoloration—nails are often yellowish, grayish, or brownish. It can start as a single white spot and then spread.
Nail distortion—the nail itself grows thick and brittle, as well as the edges. The nail may be deformed.
Odor—while odor is not always present, toenail fungus can cause serious aromas in your feet and toes. If you notice a sudden change in the way your feet smell, it could be fungus.
Causes of Toenail Fungus
Fungi may travel from person to person through direct or indirect contact. The fungi can break out of the surface and begin to spread if your nails are brittle, cracked, or slightly separated from the nail bed. Although it may be difficult to pinpoint exactly when and how you became infected, risk factors include:
Sweaty shoes–When damp, dark, and sweaty shoes and socks are worn, they provide a breeding ground for the fungus. If you don’t change your footwear regularly, you increase your likelihood of infection
Going barefoot in public–Fungi may grow on porous surfaces in communal areas such as pool decks and shower rooms, so wear flip-flops or shower shoes at all times.
Age–Over time, your nails are more susceptible to becoming dry and brittle, which allows the fungus to grow. It’s also harder for your immune system to fight an infection when circulation is slower.
Common Home Remedies for Fungal Toenails
With any home remedy, it’s important to continue treatment for at least two weeks after the infection appears to be gone. This helps ensure that all the fungus is killed and prevents reinfection. You should also avoid sharing towels, shoes, socks, or other personal items with someone who has a fungal infection. If you have diabetes or another condition that causes poor circulation, see your doctor before using any home remedies for fungal infections.
Here are a few of the most common home remedies:
Soaking your feet and toes in a bath containing Epsom salts can help dry out fungal infections by killing fungal spores. Add 1–2 cups of Epsom salt to a footbath of warm water and soak for 30 minutes. Alternatively, you can add 2 tablespoons of Epsom salt to 2 cups of water and soak a cotton ball in it. Apply the cotton ball to your fungal nails for 10 minutes, then rinse it off with warm water.
Soak your feet for 30 minutes in a vinegar bath to kill bacteria. You can add 1/2 cup of vinegar to a footbath containing warm water.
Oregano oil contains thymol and carvacrol, two compounds with anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties. Add a few drops of oregano oil to a carrier oil like olive oil or coconut oil and apply it to the affected nails.
Garlic has antifungal properties that can help treat fungal infections. Crush a few cloves of garlic and soak them in olive oil overnight. Apply the mixture to your fungal nails twice daily until the infection clears up.
If you’ve tried numerous home remedies without improvement, you should seek professional help dealing with an infection.