If your toe or fingernails have ever turned crusty and dark, and the symptoms seem to linger forever, then you know what it is to have nail fungus. While not usually dangerous, it can be very annoying and painful in some cases, in addition to being hard to treat. Let’s take a look at some of the particulars of this relatively common fungal infection and some essential natural remedies for nail fungus.
What is Nail Fungus?
Nail fungus is a fungal infection of the toenails or fingernails that result from fungi that attack these tissues and often spread deeper into the nail beds the more prolonged the condition is present. They can be challenging to treat and are a recurring concern for many people. They can be painful and make the nails discolored, brittle, and very aesthetically displeasing to certain folks. If you like to go barefoot, you may be particularly sensitive to their unsightly presence, and as we shall see, going barefoot may have exposed you to the infection in the first place. Nail fungus is often found in conjunction with athlete’s foot and may be caused by the same fungus, but it is a distinctly different condition.
Essentially, three types of fungus can cause toenails to become infected: yeast, mold, and dermatophyte. A yeast toenail infection is usually white, a mold infection is generally a dull brown, and a dermatophyte infection is typically yellow.
What Are the Symptoms of Nail Fungus Infections?
The official name for nail fungus infection is onychomycosis, and several fungal agents may cause it. Most cases of onychomycosis range from minor to severe — severe enough to cause the nail to separate from the nail bed, known as onycholysis. Fungal infections can occur in both the toe and fingernails, but they are much more common in the toenails. The most typical symptoms of nail fungus infections include:
- A small white or yellow spot under the nail (often the first sign of infection)
- Unusually thick nails
- Abnormal brittleness
- Crumbling nails
- Twisted, distorted nails that change noticeably in appearance
- Dull nails that lose their characteristic shine
- Pain in the nail beds and surrounding areas of the toes or fingers.
- A foul odor from the toes or fingertips
- Possible separation from the nail bed (in extreme cases)
What is the Root Cause of Nail Fungus Infections?
Fungi are one of the most common life-forms on earth, with an estimated 1.5 million different species. Only about 70,000 of them have been identified and classified. Many of them serve practical purposes as agents of decay in the ecosystem and some as food sources. However, certain fungi can be harmful and cause disease and infection. They like to live in dark, moist areas such as on your foot inside your warm, moist socks and shoes. They also thrive in damp areas such as locker rooms and pool areas. Therefore, wearing socks and shoes that are damp and have poor ventilation can be just as much a risk factor for developing nail fungus as walking barefoot at your health club.
The cause of most nail fungus infections is fungi classified as dermatophytes. Less often, specific yeasts and molds can be responsible as well. They typically get their “foothold” (pun intended) in gaps or wounds near or on the nails. These susceptible areas can be so small that they are literally microscopic, invisible to the naked eye. They often afflict folks that are continuously exposed to damp, warm environments. Wearing shoes and socks, especially in warm weather, often triggers infections and is one reason why the fungus more easily attacks the toes than the fingers. The toes also generally have less blood circulating through them, so the immune system has less chance to fight off the invaders. People who constantly have wet hands, such as dishwashers or food preparation workers, may also more easily get nail fungus infections on their fingernails.
Another factor you should be aware of is the risk involved with getting your nails (fingers or toes) treated in a salon, mainly if artificial or acrylic nails are applied on top of your natural nails. Gaps between the two can be perfect breeding spots for fungal (and bacterial) agents, resulting in an infection. It kind of ruins the effect if your natural nails turn dark and ugly under the pretty acrylic surface. In addition to aesthetic concerns, infections can spread to the surrounding tissues of the fingers and toes. If you do go to a salon, be sure to choose one that is properly licensed and where the technicians are licensed as well. The facility should be clean and well-ventilated, and before the procedure, the technician should wash her hands carefully and also scrub down your fingers or toes. It is also vital that the tools and equipment are cleaned and sterilized between each client. Precautions such as these will significantly diminish the chances of developing an infection.
More Factors That Increase DevelopingNail Fungus
- Hot, humid environments
- Damaged or broken nails
- The presence of another infection (such as athlete’s foot)
- Footgear (shoes and socks) that cause the feet to sweat and provide inadequate ventilation
- Going barefoot in public locker rooms and pools (Always wear shower shoes!)
- Age: Older people tend to have poorer circulation, and their nail beds are often thicker and more brittle, making them more susceptible to gaps where infection can form.
- Family history: For not yet fully understood reasons, nail fungal infections tend to run in families.
- Gender: For unknown reasons, more men than women develop nail fungus. Perhaps the reason is simply that more men are exposed to locker room-type environments, but researchers do not know for sure.
Certain Health Issues
This factor deserves special mention. People with compromised immune systems are more likely to get all kinds of infections, and nail fungus is no exception. Illnesses that harm the circulatory system, such as diabetes, can be especially troublesome. In addition to decreasing the immune system’s ability to travel to the site of the infection, diabetes also tends to make it more likely for patients to have difficulty fighting infections, especially in the extremities. Nerve and circulatory damage make it critical that people with diabetes examine their bodies regularly, especially the feet, for any signs of injury or infection. If not caught early, these abnormalities can worsen quickly and, in extreme cases, may necessitate amputation if not treated promptly.
What Treatments Are Available for Nail Fungus Infections?
First, the confirmation of the infection source must be determined — is it a fungus and not yeast or bacteria — before the best course of action can be determined. Your health care provider can scrape a sample of the material under your nail and have it tested to find out what is causing it. A simple examination of the debris under a microscope is usually all that is necessary.
Allopathic medicine has several medicinal alternatives available to treat nail fungus, but they all have significant, potentially dangerous side effects, as is typical of drugs. Oral medications such as terbinafine (Lamisil), fluconazole (Diflucan), and itraconazole (Sporanox) are often prescribed. Still, they can be toxic to the liver and other organs, cause heart concerns, and seriously conflict with other medications. Other topical prescription drugs are also an option. Still, they are frankly not very effective in most cases, with one study finding that a particular drug called ciclopirox (Penlac) cured infections in only 10% of patients with nail fungus.
What Are Some Natural Remedies for Nail Fungus?
I want to provide you with some of the best natural remedies for nail fungus. These natural remedies are much safer, cheaper, and more effective than most prescription drugs and usually get much better results than all the creams and oils that promise quick results. Most of these natural remedies can be used together for even better-targeted results. But first – some honesty. Nail fungus can be difficult to eradicate. Some people respond great to one treatment while others do not. That also includes prescription meds. It’s important to understand that no matter what treatment(s) you use, often it can take up to a year for the nail to completely grow back. Patience and persistence are the keys!
Eliminate sugar and grains. The most critical tactic for any type of fungal overgrowth is to eliminate what feeds the fungus: refined sugar and conventional grain products.
Support your gut by replenishing healthy bacteria. Begin treatment with a high-quality prebiotic/probiotic. I highly recommend Floratrex Prebiotic and Probiotic, a superior blend of live and active cultures from 25 probiotic strains that support digestion and intestinal function and boost the immune system. This advanced formula provides 75 billion CFUs and comes in vegetarian capsules.
Tea Tree Oil
This oil is a derivative of the melaleuca plant native to Australia, and it has excellent healing properties. One of them is that it is a perfect antifungal agent. Tea tree oil will stop the spread of nail fungus infections and may be safely applied as often and as long as needed. Be aware that while it may stop nail infections relatively quickly in some cases, it may take up to a year for the discoloration of the nail to disappear or for a new nail to grow back. Tea tree oil should be a staple in everyone’s medicine chest and first aid kit.
Apple Cider Vinegar with “Mother”
The antifungal properties of apple cider vinegar soaks are an excellent idea for those suffering from toenail fungus. Try to soak your feet for 10 to 15 minutes daily in a vinegar bath until the infection goes away. You can increase the length of time in the soak gradually. It may take two to three weeks or longer to see improvement in symptoms. Try two parts vinegar to one part warm water and soak feet for 20 minutes daily. For a more potent foot soak, the ratio could be one part vinegar to one part water. If the smell is too overwhelming, you can add essential oils known to be antifungals to make the experience more pleasant.
Ozonated Olive Oil
Ozonated olive oil addresses many of the concerns of toenail fungus. Acting as an antifungal, ozonated olive oil cleans the skin. Studies indicate that hydroxytyrosol, an antioxidant found in olive oil, can kill the molds, yeasts, and dermatophytes associated with toenail fungus and athlete’s foot. This antioxidant activity can neutralize free radicals from the harmful toxins fungus releases. The ozone delivers oxygen that kills bacteria and fungus, helping skin cells to heal faster. I use and recommend OxyBalm from Purely Ageless Skincare.
Oregano Oil is considered to be a more powerful antifungal than other available commercial products. Oregano Oil can help improve fungal skin infections, including athlete’s foot and ringworm. When taken internally, oregano oil provides the best treatment. A team of British and Indian researchers reported that the essential oil of Himalayan oregano has strong antibacterial properties that can even kill the hospital superbug MRSA. Professor Vyv Salisbury commented: “We have done a few preliminary tests and have found that the essential oil from the oregano kills MRSA at a dilution of 1 to 1,000. The tests show that the oil kills MRSA both as a liquid and as a vapor, and its antimicrobial activity is not diminished by heating in boiling water.”
Since the late 1800s, colloidal silver’s broad-spectrum antimicrobial qualities have been known. Dr. William Halstead, M.D., one of the founding fathers of modern surgery, wrote about the infection-fighting qualities of silver back in 1913:
“We may only have scratched the surface of silver’s medical brilliance! Already it is an amazing tool! It stimulates bone-forming cells, cures the most stubborn infections of all kinds…and stimulates healing in skin and other soft tissues. I know of nothing which could quite take its place, nor, have I known anyone to abandon it who had thoroughly familiarized himself with the technique of its application.”
For toenail fungus, follow these instructions when using colloidal silver:
1. Get a rubber surgical glove and choose a finger that easily fits over the toe with a fungus issue; then start by filing the top of the infected nail lightly with a standard nail file.
2. Cut off the appropriate glove finger to make a “toe condom”; this should be used to cover the toe and the cotton ball that will be soaked in colloidal silver and placed on top of the infected nail.
3. Soak a small cotton ball with 8-10 ppm colloidal silver.
4. Place the wet cotton ball on top of the infected nail.
5. Cover the entire toe and cotton ball with the “toenail condom” and sleep with it on the toe, leave it on all night; repeat this procedure each night for two weeks.
The “toe condom” will help to keep the cotton ball moist and in place. It also keeps the bed dry. Caution: The toe will appear to be somewhat “shriveled” after sleeping overnight with it on your toe. Always use a nail file to lightly file the nail at the start of this process, and from time to time during the two-week time period that colloidal silver is used, so that it can easily soak into the nail and surrounding tissues and get to the fungus.
Read more about colloidal silver at Colloidal Silver – What You Need to Know
Olive Leaf Extract
Olive leaf extract contains oleuropein, which has antifungal properties. You can apply olive leaf extract as a topical treatment or take it in capsules. A review published in The Pharma Journal showed that the supplement was more effective than topical treatment. It can also benefit your immune system, as it contains almost double the antioxidant capacity as that of vitamin C, vitamin E, grape seed extract, and green tea.
The benefits of garlic as a natural health remedy, once considered mere folklore, have been proven by the scientific community in recent years. From lowering cholesterol to preventing cancer and boosting the immune system, this wonder food continues to show its promise in the field of health and wellness because of the over 100 biologically valuable chemicals it contains.
Treating toenail fungus with garlic is easy and painless. Several methods work well, and depending on the severity of your fungal infection, you may wish to try one or more of them.
Its ability to eliminate the fungus makes it a natural choice and one that is easy to attain and use. In the beginning stages of the infection, it is helpful to place several chopped cloves in the toes of your socks at night. Or, for a more targeted approach, crush some fresh cloves and put them in contact with the affected area for 30 minutes. The skin should be washed before and after both of these applications. Garlic powder can also be used to combat toenail fungus. A light dusting of garlic powder is a great way to get a healthy dose of this powerful remedy. You can also make a garlic oil ointment using one tablespoon of freshly chopped garlic, three tablespoons of coconut oil, and one tablespoon of olive oil. You can store the balm in your fridge for up to one month.
Can Nail Fungus Infections be Prevented?
The answer is – yes – one can take preventive measures to avoid initial nail fungus infections and prevent recurring ones. As I said above, fungus infections can be very difficult to get rid of, so you mustn’t keep exposing the affected areas to environments that encourage the growth of the fungi.
Some practical steps to minimize the risk of fungus infections include
- Don’t let your feet get sweaty. If they do, be sure to change socks and shoes often, several times a day if necessary. It might be a good idea to alternate pairs of shoes every other day.
- Use foot powder, either plain or medicated. If you choose medicated, be sure you know what the ingredients are. You don’t want to expose yourself to chemicals that may increase irritation and worsen the situation.
- Keep your finger and toenails clean and short. Be careful while trimming them not to damage the nails or adjacent skin. Also, wash your hands after handling affected areas.
- Keep your hands dry, especially if they are exposed to dampness constantly. Wearing rubber gloves is a good idea if you are not allergic to latex. One good tip is to turn the gloves inside out when you are not wearing them to fully dry from any sweat or other moisture that may be present.
- Never go barefoot in public areas, especially if they are damp. It’s a great way to pick up a fungal infection.
When using and natural treatment for your toenail fungus, the success of the treatment depends entirely on your willingness to faithfully treat the toenail every day and continue your therapy for a considerable amount of time. It is best to treat toenail fungus or nail fungus from the inside out. Unfortunately, because the cure for toenail fungus can take up to a year, many people choose to live with it rather than taking measures to combat it. The toenail fungus treatment is lengthy since the treatment must continue, even after the fungus goes away and the toenail begins to clear. The fungus is not entirely cured until the infected portion of the toenail has completely grown out. Treatment internally and externally should then continue for at least 3-4 weeks to ensure it does not come back.
With all wellness issues, prevention is far better and easier than treatment. Taking care to avoid nail fungus will eliminate dealing with this stubborn, persistent condition that can make your life difficult. A little preventative, proactive intervention can help lessen the risk of nail fungus infections.
Zoric N1, Horvat I, Kopjar N, et al. Hydroxytyrosol expresses antifungal activity in vitro. Curr Drug Targets. 2013 Aug;14(9):992-8.
Valacchi G1, Zanardi I, Lim Y, et al. Ozonated oils as functional dermatological matrices: effects on the wound healing process using SKH1 mice. Int J Pharm. 2013 Dec 15;458(1):65-73. DOI: 10.1016/j.ijpharm.2013.09.039.