Toenail Fungus: Getting (and Staying) Rid of it

Toenail Fungus: Getting (and Staying) Rid of it

Some things just won’t go away, no matter how worn out their welcome may be. Take toenail fungus for instance—if you suffer from it, you probably wish those thick, ugly, discolored nails would just disappear, never to be seen again!

Unfortunately, some things are easier said than done, which holds especially true for alleviating the symptoms of a nail fungus infection—something which afflicts an estimated 10% of us, and more men than women.

But, no matter who is suffering from it, one thing is for sure: Getting rid of it means understanding what it is, what best eradicates it, and how best to avoid it in the first place.

What is Nail Fungus?

Nail fungus overgrowth is a condition known of as onychomycosis which is becoming increasingly common in our society. It is caused by microorganisms, and typically starts as a small white, yellow or brown spot under a toenail, though less commonly in fingernails. Left unchecked, the fungus—or in some cases, types of yeasts or molds–will continue to contaminate the nail to the point it is discolored, thick, and cracked.  It is most common in men, and is similar to athlete’s foot, though not as easy to get rid of once it fully sets in.

It can also easily spread to other nails, and in extreme cases, it can cause the nail bed to disconnect which can prove quite painful. It can also become dangerous for those with diabetes or other conditions which affect the immune system, since it can spread to skin which can crack and become infected. In extreme cases, this can even result in blood poisoning and death.

However, most cases are merely unsightly, embarrassing, and potentially painful, and nail fungus treatment options vary depending on how severe your case is, as well as whether conventional doctor treatments or safer and as-effective natural options are utilized.

How Infection Starts

Fungus hates sunlight and fresh air, which is why infections of the toenail are more common than in fingernails. Since toenails are often encased in shoes and socks for most of the day, this creates the ideal anaerobic, moist, warm climate which these tiny microorganisms thrive in.

This can be made worse by those with shoes which are too tight, those with excessive foot perspiration, putting on shoes without fully drying feet, or other reasons for prolonged wetness of the feet with little air flow around them. For instance, athletes such as runners who wear shoes while exercising and perspiring at a high-rate for long periods are highly susceptible to nail fungus.

Unfortunately, many may not even notice the condition at its onset, which is when it is most easily eradicated. This can lead to the condition becoming a full-blown infection of at least one nail, though more commonly it affects more than just a single nail. Instead, it usually spreads to other nails and between toes, and causes a discoloration, thickening and cracking of the nail. Once it reaches this point, treatment goes from merely removing one spot by trimming the affected area away, to requiring months of daily treatment, and possibly even doctor treatments up to removing any infected nails.

Nipping Fungus Overgrowth in the Bud

The best way to get rid of toenail fungus is by avoiding it in the first place or catching it in its early stages. Since the fungus can usually be found in our hair, skin and nails, this means not providing it with an ideal environment for it to thrive, which prevents its overgrowth.

This can be fairly simple, so long as you are mindful of a few things:

Change socks every day, and more often if they become damp or wet. The general rule is, NEVER wear socks which feel damp or spongy, and NEVER wear socks more than once between washings.
Wear open-toed or other well-ventilated shoes if possible.
Trim nails back far enough so that they don’t push against the front of shoes.
Wear shoes which fit properly, meaning ones which are large enough that your toenails don’t rest against the front of the toe box.
Wash and dry your feet THOROUGHLY every time socks are changed and before putting on shoes.
Avoid public showers or locker rooms, and wear shower shoes if you do need to use such facilities.
Use a preventative antifungal spray or other antifungal treatment in your shoes.
However, if you do notice the onset of an outbreak and are able to catch it while it is little more than a small, discolored patch under the nail, simply file or trim the offending area away, and/or use an antifungal treatment, either over-the-counter (OTC), or a natural solution.

Treating a Full-Blown Nail Infection

Unfortunately, many of us may not pay enough attention to our nails, which means not noticing a fungal infection in its early stages. Once it has spread throughout the nail and into the tissues around it, other, more aggressive means of treatment then become necessary.

In the worst cases, this can mean surgery to have nails removed, although there are options to try before things reach that point.

For instance, there are OTC medications available, such as miconazole nitrate which is a strong antifungal agent. Unfortunately, most OTC treatments don’t effectively penetrate the nail well enough to eliminate a deep infection.

Likewise, there are doctor-prescribed treatments such as terbinafine or fluconazole which, while effective, have some rather serious side effects, not the least of which is the potential for liver damage.

But, there are natural treatment options which, while they do take time and persistence, have been shown to be effective in many cases of nail fungus infections.

Natural Treatments

Fortunately, there are ways to treat a fungal infection which are safe and natural, and which won’t cost an arm-and-a-leg.

These include:

Tea tree oil
Coconut oil
Vick’s Vapor Rub
Snakeroot extract
Thymol, which is available in oregano or thyme oil
Ozonized oils, such as sunflower or olive oil which have been injected with ozone gas
There are other natural antifungal compounds, though these are the ones which tend to be the most effective against nail fungus. Still, any treatment is going to require consistency, perseverance and patience, and possibly medical attention to become fully rid of extreme cases.

The Best Course of Action: Prevention

Of course, the best way to eliminate a fungal infection is to avoid it in the first place, which means allowing your feet or hands to “breath” whenever possible. This means wearing open-toed shoes when feasible, avoiding wearing gloves for long periods–especially rubber or other non-breathing types–and making sure that your socks and feet are clean and dry at all times.

It is also advised that you inspect your nails regularly for any on-setting conditions. If you do spot any discoloration, thickening or cracking of the nails, trim the offending area away immediately and apply an antifungal solution to the area until you are sure it is gone, and continue to do so for longer than you think is necessary.

Better yet, continue treating the area(s) even though your feet appear healthy, and use an antifungal powder or spray treatment in your shoes at all times.

You also need to avoid cross-contamination from nail clippers, files, or other shared implements, and if you visit a nail salon for treatments, confirm with the salon that all clippers, files, etc., are fully sterilized between clients. If your salon isn’t willing to confirm this with you, find another which is!

Finally, care needs to be taken around public pools, locker rooms, and other shared areas where feet are bare, and things are wet. You need to always wear shower shoes in these areas, and to thoroughly clean and dry your feet before putting on socks or shoes after visiting them. A preventative antifungal treatment is also highly recommended, and if there is any way to avoid these types of areas altogether, all the better!

Finally

While toenail fungus infections may be common, you don’t need to suffer from them.

And, even though avoiding the types of microbes responsible for a nail infection may be essentially impossible, there are ways you can limit your exposure to them, as well as to limit the likelihood an overgrowth will occur.

However, if you do find that your nails have become thick, discolored, cracked and unsightly, you still have hope. In fact, there are natural solutions which have been shown to be as effective as pharmaceutical options, such as snakeroot extract which a recent study has proven comparable in effectiveness to the prescription antifungal medication ciclopirox.

And, preventing future outbreaks can be as simple as keeping your feet comfy and clean, your shoes properly fitting, and dusted or sprayed with an OTC or natural nail fungus treatment.

So, check your finger and toenails often, keep your feet clean and dry, and whenever possible, take them out for some fresh air and sunshine.

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