Nail fungus, also known as onychomycosi s or tinea unguium, is a common condition that can affect fingernails or toenails, although it is more common to cause toenail infections. It usually starts as a white or yellow spot under your nail and can cause serious damage to the nail or other infected area if left untreated. By identifying the signs, symptoms, and how to treat them, you will be able to find out if you have nail fungus and also how to get rid of it.
Part 1 of 2: Identifying Nail Fungus
Step 1. Find out the cause
Nail fungus is most often caused by dermatophyte fungi, but the infection can also be caused by fungus on your nails. The fungus that causes toenail fungus can cause infection and develop in the following circumstances:
- An invisible cut in your skin or a small break in your nail bed.
- Warm, humid environments like swimming pools, bathrooms, and even your shoes.
Step 2. Be aware of your risk factors
While anyone can get toenail fungus, there are several factors that can make you more susceptible to it. You may be at high risk because:
- Age. Age reduces blood flow and slows nail growth.
- Gender, especially men with a family history of fungal nail infections.
- Location, especially if you work in a humid environment, or if your hands or feet are often wet while working.
- Sweat a lot.
- Choice of clothing, such as socks and shoes that do not provide good ventilation and/or absorb sweat.
- Closeness to someone who has toenail fungus, especially if you live with the person with it.
- Have athlete's foot
- Have minor skin or nail injuries, or skin diseases such as psoriasis
- Have diabetes, problems with blood circulation, or a weak immune system.
Step 3. Recognize the symptoms
Nail infections show some common symptoms that can help you to quickly find out if you are infected. Nails infected by fungus usually look:
- Brittle, break easily, or peel.
- The shape is changing
- Looks dull, not shiny
- Dark color caused by flakes that accumulate under the nail.
- Nail fungus can also cause the nail to detach from the nail bed
Step 4. Watch for changes in your nails
Look closely at your nails to see how they change over time. This will make it easier for you to know if you have nail fungus or not so you can get treatment as soon as possible.
- Watch for white or yellow patches or streaks under and next to the nails. That is the first symptom you may notice.
- Watch for changes in the texture of your nails, such as breaking, thickening, or losing their shine.
- Remove nail polish at least once a week so you can check your nails. Nail polish will make it difficult to effectively examine the common symptoms of toenail fungus.
Step 5. Pain
Severe nail fungus can cause pain and possibly inflammation of your nail and surrounding tissue. Thickened nails can be accompanied by pain, this will make it easier for you to know if you have nail fungus and not pain from an ingrown toenail or other condition.
- Pain that feels directly on your nail or around it. You can try gently pressing your fingernail to check if it hurts or not.
- Make sure that the pain is not due to wearing shoes that are too tight which can cause pain in your toenails.
Step 6. There is an odor
Dead tissue that builds up under your nail bed or separated nails can cause your nails to smell bad. Smelling an unusual odor in your nails can help you determine if you have nail fungus and seek treatment as soon as possible.
There is an unpleasant smell like something is dead or rotting
Step 7. Check with a doctor
If you're showing symptoms of toenail fungus and don't know the exact cause, or if self-medication doesn't work, then see a doctor. Your doctor will examine your toe and may do some tests to determine the type of infection you have to help determine the best treatment for you.
- Explain to your doctor how long you have had these symptoms and describe any pain or odor.
- Let the doctor examine your nails, this may be the only way to make sure you have nail fungus.
- Your doctor may take a small piece of splinter from under your nail and send it to a lab for further testing to determine what's causing your infection.
- Keep in mind that a skin condition like psoriasis can look like a fungal nail infection.
Part 2 of 2: Treating Nail Fungus
Step 1. Take antifungal medication
Depending on the severity of your toenail fungus, your doctor may prescribe an oral antifungal medication. These medications, including terbinafine (Lamisil) and itraconazole (Sporanox) can help the growth of new healthy nails, replacing nails that are affected by fungus.
- Follow this treatment for 6-12 weeks. Remember that it can take four months or more for the infection to heal.
- Remember that you can experience side effects such as skin rashes and liver damage. Talk to your doctor about other side effects before taking antifungal medication.
Step 2. Trim and smooth your nails
Trimming and smoothing your nails can help reduce pain and pressure on your nails and nail bed. This can also make it easier for the medication to enter and heal the infected area.
- Soften your nails before trimming or smoothing them. You can do this by applying urea cream to the sore nail and covering it with a plaster, and cleaning it in the morning. Use this method until the nails become soft.
- Protect the area around your nails with petroleum jelly.
Step 3. Apply Vicks VapoRub
Some research shows that applying Vicks VapoRub to nail fungus can help treat it. Apply thinly every day to kill nail fungus.
- Use a cotton swab to apply VapoRub to your nails.
- Apply at night and leave overnight. Clean up in the morning.
- Repeat the process until the infection clears up.
Step 4. Try herbal remedies
There is some evidence that alternative herbal remedies can help treat fungal nail infections. There are two herbal remedies that can kill nail fungus completely:
- extract of the snakeroot plant that comes from the sunflower family. Apply every three days for one month, then twice a week in the following month, and once a week in the third month.
- Tea tree oil (tea tree). Apply twice a day until the fungus is gone.
Step 5. Apply creams and ointments
If you notice white or yellow patches or streaks on your nails, apply an over-the-counter or prescription ointment or cream. For very severe cases, check with your doctor to get a prescription for medicated cream. This can help stop the infection before it spreads or gets worse.
- Trim the nail, soak the infected area in water and dry it before applying the medicine.
- Follow the instructions on the package and the doctor's directions.
Step 6. Paint your nails with medicated nail polish
Your doctor may suggest painting your nails with medicated nail polish on the infected area. This can help heal the infection and prevent the fungus from spreading.
- Apply ciclopirox (Penlac) to your nails once a day for a week then wash off. Repeat the process again.
- Treatment like this can take a year.
Step 7. Consider another way
Severe fungal infections may require stronger treatment. Talk to your doctor about other treatments such as nail removal or laser therapy to kill nail fungus.
- Your doctor may remove your nail if the fungus is very severe. In this case the new nail will grow back in a year.
- Several studies have shown that light and laser treatment, either separately or together, can help treat nail fungus. Keep in mind that treatment in this way is expensive and is not covered by insurance.
Step 8. Prevent nail fungus
You can prevent toenail fungus by taking health care and preventive measures to minimize the risk. Adopting the following habits will help minimize your risk of developing toenail fungus:
- Make sure nails are short and dry, hands and feet are also clean
- Wear socks that absorb sweat
- Choose shoes that have good air circulation and ventilation
- Throw away old shoes
- Spray antifungal medication or sprinkle antifungal powder into the shoes
- Avoid pulling the skin around the nails
- Wear shoes in public places
- Clean nail polish and fake nails
- Wash your hands and feet after touching infected nails.