Toenail fungal infections, or onychomycosis, are the result of microscopic organisms getting into the nail through cracks, cuts, and areas where the nail has separated from the surrounding skin. These fungi cause discolored, crumbling, cracking, and misshapen nails.
It can take years for symptoms to show up, and while there are a variety of treatments, not all of them are effective 100% of the time. While infections caught early may respond well to treatment at home, it’s often necessary to see a doctor for prescription cures.
As with any infection, prevention is the best treatment option. For preventing toenail fungus, practice careful hygiene and using proper footwear. At the first sign of toenail fungus, over-the-counter treatments may do the trick. There are numerous antifungal creams and lotions, but they aren’t always strong enough to be effective.
Some people find a lot of success from home remedies like tea tree oil, which contains natural antiseptic, antibacterial, and antifungal properties. Even Vick’s VapoRub has been found to get rid of infections when applied to the nails daily. However, for any of these to work, the creams and oils must be able to get into the nail, so the fungus can be attacked directly.
Even prescription topical treatments are not always successful. Many toenail fungus infections get so far into the nail that just wiping something over the top won’t clear out all the invaders. Creams and nail polishes will work for some, but oral antifungals are usually recommended. They must be taken for six to twelve weeks, and it may take up to four months to notice results.
If your doctor prescribes a cream, it’s important to thin the nails so that it can get into the infected area completely. A lotion that contains urea can be obtained over-the-counter, or your doctor may use a file to do it for you. The cream is then rubbed into the nails.
Toenail fungus laser treatment and light therapies are a fairly new development in medicine and are currently under research for their effectiveness against toenail fungus. The results look promising, but these therapies are not yet widely available and can be very expensive, especially since insurance isn’t always willing to cover the cost.
It’s important to continue use of any treatment, even if it doesn’t seem to be working. Keeping the nails clean and trimmed helps as well. Additionally, you won’t be able to tell if any treatment has worked completely until the nail has grown out. In some very extreme cases, the nail may have to be surgically removed if it is infected beyond repair or is exceedingly painful.