What is Toenail Fungus?
The most common of all the nail abnormalities that usually causes a discoloration, dis-figuration and the eventual destruction of the toenail is called Toenail Fungus. It has in its favor several medical terms, namely Onychomycosis, Tinea unguium and Ringworm of the nail. It is a kind of an infection caused by a fungal group known as Dermatophytes and as such is also known as Dermatophytic onychomycosis. The moist warm environment that persists within the shoes are usually the breeding ground for the growth of the Dermatophytes who feed on the keratin or the protein rich portion of the toenails which renders the hardness and the strength to the nail.
Types of Toenail Fungus
Medical experts have classified toenail fungus into 4 basic types on the basis of the type and extent of fungal infection. They are as the following:-
- Distal Subungual Onychomycosis is perhaps the most common form of Toenail fungal infection that is caused by a fungus named Trichophyton rubrum. This fungus is dangerous in the sense that it tries to cause harm to the toenail by forcefully entering the nail bed and making its way beneath the nail plate to feed and destroy the keratin present.
- Another very commonly seen toenail and fingernail fungal infection is the one caused by keeping the fingers underwater either for a long period of time or frequently exposing them to the same. This kind of an infection is known as Candida Onychomycosis as it is caused by the action of the candida species of fungus.
- Proximal Subungal Onchomycosis is a kind of tinea unguium that usually affects those whose immune systems are relatively weak and compromising. Here the fungus tries to invade through the proximal nail fold to the nail plate and subsequently the nail bed.
- The formation of ‘white islands’ on the nail due to the erosion of the superficial layers of the nail due to fungal invasions is known as White Superficial Onychomycosis. However, it only accounts for a fraction of cases dealing with onychomycosis but may be confused for Keratin Granulations which cause a chalky appearance of the nail owing to the harmful effects of the use of nail polish.
The aged are the most affected by toenail fungus and diabetics and HIV patients are highly prone to the same.
Is Toenail Fungus Contagious?
Toenail fungus as a disease is highly contagious in nature and can very easily spread from one to another if ignored. Showers in the bathrooms and the locker rooms are the primary places where one can easily come in contact with the pathogens of the disease if the place is uncleaned or unhygienic.
Toenail Fungus Symptoms
The symptoms of toenail fungus are quite discernable as the infection causes the nail to lose its color and as such turn abnormally yellowish, brownish or whitish. This is accompanied by the over thickness and roughness of the nail and its crumbling thereby leading to its complete separation from the nail bed. If the toenail fungus is accompanied with skin lesions or fungal infections in other parts of the body, rashness or itching may occur in the new area of the body. The excessive thickness of the nail and its overgrowth makes it highly difficult to wear shoes at this point of time. Fluids may be discharged from the affected area due to the accumulation of debris on the sides of the nail causing it to smell foul and pungent. The severity of this state may lead to the eventual falling off of the nail and the subsequent growth of an inborn toe nail and its infection. If ignored, this may perpetuate to paronychia and onycholysis, which are other kinds of nail disorders and infections.
What causes Toenail Fungus?
Toenail Fungus is primarily caused by poor maintenance of personal hygiene. Since the disease is contagious in nature, any act of sharing personal belongings such as shoes or socks may pass on the disease to the other person. an apt environment for the growth of the fungus causing toenail fungus is created automatically if one keeps wearing the same shoes or socks for a long perod of time.
Types of Fungus causing Toenail Fungus
The fungus causing Toenail fungus are basically of three types :
- Dermatophytes such as Tricophyton rubrum are considered to be the most common pathogen causing toenail fungus. Other dermatophytes causing the same include Tricophyton interdigitale, Tricophyton violaceum, Trycophyton veruccosum (commonly known as cattle ringworm), Epidermophyton floccosum, Microsporum gypseum, and others.These are supposed to be the found in the temperate climatic zones of the western world.
- The Candida is a water borne fungus that affects those who always have the tendency to submerge their hand or feet underwater.
- And the non-dermatophytic pathogens of toenail fungus include the Scytalidium, Aspergillus, Scopulariopsis which affect people living in warm and humid climate.
Other factors contributing to onychomycosis include heredity, aging, athletic and fitness activities in public places, the use of public toilets and bathrooms, occlusive footwear, low pH level of the skin, wet feet, and immunosupression such as HIV.
Toenail Fungus Treatment and Cure
Although treating onychomycosis is somewhat difficult and time consuming due to the complexity involved in the infection of the nails yet there are several treatments for those wondering as to how to get rid of Toenail Fungus? They can be subdivided into 2 broad categories:-
Pharmocological or Medical Treatment
The pharmacological methods can be categorised into two types, namely systemic antifungal and topical toenail fungus treatment.
In the case of anti-fungal medications, itraconazole and terbinafine are suggested. Whereas in the case of topical medications, Amorolfine and Ciclopirox are used to cure oneself of toenail fungus. However the best method to cure this disease is to use the combination of both systemic and topical therapies. An example of such a therapy include nail lacquer which is a method of applying the same on the nails for a consistent period which may extend upto a year or more to cure.
Along with these, oral medications are also available to get rid of toenail fungus. The duration of this medication depends on the severity of toenail infection and the time taken by the infected nail to shed in order to make space for a new nail in its place. Some of them are the Fluconazole or Diflucan and Terbinafine in the form of Lamisil. However, warm and moist environmental exposure to the affected nail may delay the healing period and aggravate the situation. But this method is not recommended by the doctors because of its own perils such as stomach upset, allergies, headache, skin rashes which may be precipitated by underlying causes of the damage to the lever. The oral intake of these may lead to heart failure in severe cases.
Toenail Fungus Home Remedies and Natural Treatment
Toenail fungus has several natural treatments which are basically adopted at home. They are considered to be traditional and their efficacy depends on the proper use and application of natural ingredients. Some of the most commonly used cures for toenail fungus at home are the following:-
- Tea tree oil is supposed to posses a high potential of killing the fungus and acts as a natural antiseptic for not only toenail fungus but all other nail related problems. One is supposed to apply tea tree oil which is undiluted and mixed with olive oil to the area affected. The solution is supposed to be applied on the affected nail alternatively and allow it to remain for atleast fifteen minutes. Then the scrubbing of the area is necessary so as to ensure that the fungus over the top layer of the nail is removed. This method should continue for few weeks in order to allow the proper percolation of the oil deep within the nail and the nail bed. It is only after following the procedure properly for as long as the situation demands that toenail fungus shall be cured.
- The use of vinegar for treating toenail fungus is the most common practice adopted at home. By mixing apple cider vinegar with warm water, one prepares a perfect mixture to soak the toenails and prevent the infection from spreading. After its proper application, one must allow the feet to dry up. One must also use vinegar to exfoliate the nail in order to remove dead skin and nail cells. This shall help to keep the skin clean and soft and also prevent cracks.
- Extracts from the seeds of grapefruit also help in curing toenail fungus due to its rich antimicrobial qualities.
- The extracts from the leafs of snakeroots are also considered to be capable of curing superficial onychomycosis.
- One may be astonished to know that Listerine Mouthwash which is used to protect the teeth and keep away bad breath may also act as an effective agent of curing toenail fungus. This is because it has several compounds which act a strong antiseptic to keep away such infections.
Along with these, oils such as thyme and oregano are considered to have strong anti-fungal properties which shall help in the fast and effective cure of toenail fungus. But the doctors do not recommend the use of both oils as they are supposed to have strong side-effects effecting the heart, kidney and the liver.
If one is still not satisfied by the exhaustive list of the treatments for toenail fungus mentioned above, one may also resort to some more tips provided by doctors. The application of toenail fungus creams containing Alpha Hydroxy Acid helps to flush off the scales from the feet that are born out of the infections.
Toenail fungus laser treatment is another alternative method to treat and cure toenail fungus. This kind of treatment is considered to be promising as it uses the most advanced technology to cure toenail fungus in the fastest and the best possible manner. There are several variants of this method such as the Noveon-type laser therapy, Pinpointe Foot Laser system as well as other laser therapies meant for cataract surgery which are at present also being used for treating toenail fungus.
Along with all these, doctors have suggested a few precautions that one must abide by for the proper healing of toenail fungus or onychomycosis. Some of them include the following:-
- One suffering from toenail fungus must reduce the intake of refined carbohydrates such as vinegar, diary products and sugar. A probiotic rich diet must be followed. This may not cure toenail fungus but facilitate the healing of the fungal infection.
- Other precautions fall in the realm of personal hygiene such as washing the feet properly after visiting public places such as swimming pools & toilets,wearing cotton socks so as to avoid the sweating of tye feet and the fingers, avoidance of sharing personal belongings with the person affected, trimming nails and avoiding the application of poor quality nail polish,etc.
All these measures and precautions are intended to provide relief to those who want a fast and easy recovery from toenail fungus. However for severe cases one must consult a doctor who may recommend a toenail fungus surgery if the other methods don’t work.