How To Get Rid of Toenail Fungus

Q:     My toenails are getting really thick and yellow. Are there any non-prescription products that can help?

When you have thickened, deformed toenails it’s not just how nasty they look but how they can cut through your socks, cause pain and prevent you from wearing your favorite shoes. All this misery, just from a fungal infection! Fungus that infects your feet through cracks in your skin, then spreading to the cells under your skin where your body forms new toenails, called the nail plate. Once the fungus invades your nail plate your nails start growing out ugly and deformed.

Fungus infection of the toenails, called onychomycosis often starts with one nail affected, usually with little white spots. As it spreads the entire nail becomes white and it spreads to other nails, eventually causing more severe symptoms, like  nails growing out thickened, yellow, discolored, even crumbly. As your toenails grow thicker it’s harder to keep them trimmed, and nails that grow sideways or slant upward wear holes in your socks and make it hard to find shoes that fit.

Treating onychomycosis is often lengthy, frustrating and disappointing. The prescription treatment considered the most effective only cures the infection in 50% of cases. Not only that, but 1 out of every 5 people who do get cured will have a recurrence within 2 years.
Infected toenails take 12 months to grow out, so any successful treatment of  onychomycosis takes a long, long time: a minimum of 3 months for oral treatment and 10-12 months for topical treatment. Topical treatments designed for athlete’s foot are not usually effective on toenail fungus because they only have to affect the skin. When treating a toenail infection you need the treatment to penetrate under the skin and to attack the fungus growing inside the nail plate.

What can you do?
Topical treatments are most successful in mild cases, such as only part of the nail on only 1-2 toes affected. If you have significant thickening and deformed nails, consider prescription strength antifungals. Sometimes the best way to treat severely deformed toenails is to remove them and let them grow back in while you are treating the infection with an oral antifungal like Lamisil® (terbinafine) for 12 weeks.

There are topical treatments for less severe cases of onychomycosis, but they have far less success than a prescription strength oral antifungal and they all need to be used consistently every day for at least 10 months. Filing off some of the nail may also help topical treatments penetrate better into the nail plate.

Some examples of topical remedies for nail fungus include prescription-only Jublia®, non-prescription tolnaftate solution, tea tree oil, and (believe it or not) Vick’s VapoRub®. Another option recommended by some of my fellow pharmacists is soaking your feet daily in full-strength white vinegar for at least 4-6 months.

Even when the fungus has been killed off, don’t be shocked if it comes back. That’s because the conditions that helped the fungus get a toehold on you are often still there: warmth, moisture and darkness.

Here are 5 tips For Fixing Nail Fungus:

1.     Get rid of athlete’s foot by treating it with topical creams or gels that kill off foot fungus. If you don’t eradicate the fungus from your skin, it will re-infect your toenails. Once your skin symptoms have disappeared keep on using the medication twice a day for at least another two weeks. This helps make sure the fungus gets completely shed out of your skin. If you leave any tinea fungus alive inside the skin layers of your feet it can easily multiply and spread, putting you right back where you started.

2.      Keep your feet as dry as possible. Wear loose shoes or sandals and change your socks frequently. Fungus thrives in warm, dark and moist places; your chances of beating the odds and getting a cure as well as avoiding recurrence are greater if you make it as difficult as possible for the fungus to multiply.

3.    When using a topical remedy, filing off some of the toenail on top seems to improve your changes for success.

4.     Apply the nail fungus remedy to the affected nails every day for a minimum of 10 months. If your symptoms don’t completely resolve or they become worse you should consult your doctor for other options. Sometimes removing the nail is the best option.

5.    Try daily vinegar soaks. Soaking your feet in full strength white vinegar every day for at least 6-10 months is an inexpensive option you can try.

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