Commonly known to the layman as “fungal nail infection”, Onychomycosis is an infection that occurs when fungus forms beneath the nails. The condition can develop as a result of poor foot hygiene, continuous exposure to moist environments, wearing unbreathable synthetic socks, accumulation of sweat in shoes, imbalanced pH levels of the skin, a compromised immune system, and conditions like diabetes that constricts blood flow.
Upon infection, Onychomycosis will cause the nail to thicken, discolor, and eventually crumble into pieces. If left untreated, the condition can become painful. As the infection progresses, areas around the infected toenails or fingernails may swell and begin to give off a foul smell too.
Dangers of Traditional Treatment Options
Fungal nail infection is treatable with oral anti-fungal drugs, topical medications, surgery, or laser treatments. The problem with these modern treatments, however, is that they can sometimes cause complications. Depending on the chosen treatment, some of the possible side effects that may occur include skin rashes, blisters, loss of appetite, gastrointestinal issues, headaches, respiratory problems, abnormal nail growth, or liver damage.
Due to the many risks associated with modern treatments for fungal nail infection, many people are now opting for alternative remedies that are relatively safer. As an added bonus, it’s also possible to treat fungal nail infection using just a few basic ingredients one already has available at home.
Home Remedies to Get Rid of Nail Fungus
Although some people may refer to these alternative treatments as “quack science”, there appears to be a little more to these homemade remedies since many individuals have used them to cure their conditions. However, more research still needs to be conducted on the success rate of home remedies for nail fungus.
Some common and supposedly effective alternative treatments include:
- Apple Cidar Vinegar
According to Dr. Josh Axe of the Exodus Health Center, apple cidar vinegar not only helps to soothe sunburns, balance pH in the body, manage blood sugar levels, and aid in weight loss, it’s also an ingredient that contains anti-fungal properties. As such, many sufferers of fungal nail infection have now turned to this healthy food to cure their conditions.
The acidic properties of apple cidar vinegar prevent nail fungus from spreading. At the same time, apple cidar vinegar helps to get rid of dead skin cells while killing bacteria and fungi.
Simply mix it with water in equal parts then soak the infected nails for up to 30 minutes in the solution. Repeat this process daily and pat dry the infected nails after soaking.
- Hydrogen Peroxide (Mixed with Baking Soda, Salt and White Vinegar)
While there hasn’t been a direct clinical study related to the use of hydrogen peroxide to treat fungal nail infection in the human body, researchers from the Department of Botany at the University of Toronto have found that hydrogen peroxide has been effective in strengthening the defense of plants’ cell walls to prevent fungi from penetrating through.
Another study conducted by Russian researchers showed that a high concentration of hydrogen peroxide had been instrumental in killing off fungus at the radioactive Chernobyl site.
Although both studies are not something we can possibly re-create in our homes, these anecdotal evidence suggest that hydrogen peroxide has a role to play in staving off fungi.
In line with this view, an individual suffering from Onychomycosis can take a 1/4 cup of hydrogen peroxide mixed with 1/2 a cup Epsom salt, 4 cups hot water, and 1/4 cup of white vinegar to form a strong anti-fungal concoction to fight off nail fungus. The best thing is that these basic ingredients can be easily found at any drug store.
To apply this homemade medication, soak a cotton ball in the treatment solution before placing it on the infected nails for about 10 minutes. Repeat this process twice a day for several weeks to see positive results.
- Fresh Garlic Cloves (Mixed with White Vinegar)
Dr. Mark Hyman, Director of the Cleveland Clinic Center for Functional Medicine suggests the use of crushed garlic cloves as an anti-fungal herbal remedy to boost the immune system. He notes that garlic’s antimicrobial properties can also help prevent the spread of fungus in the human body.
The idea behind this premise is that garlic contains compounds such as ajoene and allicin, which have anti-fungal properties. Therefore, when an individual mixes freshly crushed garlic with white vinegar, the restoration of the skin’s pH on the nail bed is enhanced further and both ingredients will work simultaneously to fight off infection.
Combine these two ingredients by first crushing fresh cloves of garlic before mixing them in white vinegar. Next, just soak your infected nails in the mixture for about 10 minutes daily until the fungus clears up.
- Natural Lemon Juice
According to Dr. Oz from The Dr. Oz Show, the use of lemon juice can help to get rid of nail discoloration and boost your nail care regimen. This is good news for people who suffer from embarrassing nail infections that lead to ugly greenish, yellowish, or brownish hues on the nails.
The antiseptic and anti-fungal properties of lemon juice can further stop nail fungus from spreading. However, individuals need to use fresh lemon juice as opposed to those with chemical preservatives since the latter can suppress the effects of citric acid, which is the key factor in fighting bacteria responsible for nail fungus.
For this remedy, one should simply apply lemon juice on the infected nail for about 30 minutes before rinsing off with warm water.
Bleach is a popular home remedy that’s often utilized to treat fungal nail infection. However, many people report of having achieved positive results with this remedy while others see no benefit even after several weeks of diligent application. Part of the difference in results has to do with the specific fungus that’s causing an infection.
For example, the American Osteopathic College of Dermatology specifically recommends the use of bleach to stave off growth of Pseudomonas aeruginosa, which is a type of bacteria that causes a specific fungal nail infection known as green nail syndrome.
If using bleach to treat nail fungus sounds like something worth trying, make sure to use this chemical with caution. Bleach is a caustic substance and has the tendency to irritate eyes and the mucous membrane.
For the safest application, mix 1 part of bleach with 100 parts of water. A more potent solution can be created with a ratio of 1 part bleach to 10 parts water. Once the treatment solution is ready, soak the infected toenail or fingernail for at least 15 minutes. Repeat this twice every day faithfully, preferably in the morning and before going to bed.
If the fungus does not start to clear within eight weeks, consult a physician or opt for an alternative remedy.
- Tea Tree Oil
One of the best ways to treat nail fungus without harsh chemicals is through essential oils. For instance, tea tree oil is a natural disinfectant with fungicidal and antiseptic properties that make it ideal for treating nail fungus. But don’t just take our word for it.
Dr. Andrew Weil, the Harvard-educated practitioner of natural and preventive medicine and current Director of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona, recommends the use of tea tree oil to help fight fungus infection. However, he cautions that the use of tea tree may not lead to immediate results. Nonetheless, tea tree oil is relatively inexpensive and a bottle bought from a drug store can last users for months.
To use this therapeutic oil:
- Take one teaspoon and dilute it with the same amount of olive oil.
- Allow a cotton ball to soak the oil and then place it on the infected nail for 10 minutes.
- Let the fingernail or toenail dry naturally. Repeat this treatment two to three times daily until the infection clears away.
- Oregano Oil
Oil of Oregano is another potent natural remedy for Onychomycosis. Not only is it a natural antiseptic and fungicide, but it also has antiparasitic, antibacterial, antiviral, and analgesic properties such as thymol and carvacrol. As a result, many people attest to the positive results that this natural oil can deliver.
In an experimental study conducted by Georgetown University Medical Center, the P73 oregano herb blend from Adeeva has been found to be effective in killing off at least 30 different types of bad bacteria, including the ones that cause fungal nail infection.
If you don’t have Adeeva’s propriety oregano oil on hand, you can still try using other over-the-counter Oregano oils. You may consider mixing the oil in equal proportions with an all-natural carrier like olive oil too before applying the mixture directly onto infected nails.
To prepare this therapeutic essential oils remedy:
- Mix two teaspoons each of oregano oil and olive oil
- Apply this mixture to the affected area and leave it for at least 30 minutes
- Rinse off and dry your finger or toe thoroughly
- Repeat twice or daily for several weeks to see positive results
- Coconut Oil
Dr. Bruce Fife, a certified nutritionist and naturopathic physician, notes in his book that coconut oil contains immune-boosting compounds to not only help prevent diseases, but also to assist individuals in losing weight, cure rashes, eczema and psoriasis, manage irritable bowel symptoms, and yes – get rid of harmful virus and fungi.
Furthermore, coconut oil contains Caprylic acid, which is a special active ingredient that works as a natural fungicide. The anti-fungal properties in coconut oil helps dissolve vulnerable fungus cells, while its medium-chain fatty acid is capable of penetrating the durable cell wall of Candida and other dermatophytes that cause nail fungus infection.
Once the Caprylic acid attaches itself to the lipid layer of the fungal membrane, it disturbs the system and eventually causes cell disintegration. The exposed cells will then find it difficult to survive without any protective coating.
Use the following procedure to prepare this natural home remedy:
- Take a small amount of coconut oil in your hands
- Apply the oil on the infected nail and let it soak for at least 15 minutes
- Massage the infected nail gently then allow it to dry naturally
- Repeat the steps above 2 to 3 times a day until you get complete relief from the nail fungus. Make sure to wash hands in between applications to prevent the infection from spreading to other healthy nails.
- Listerine Mouthwash
It’s possible to treat fungal nail infection with Listerine since this mouthwash contains:
- Thymol – a soluble alcohol substance that has antiseptic properties
- Salicylate – an organic acid that sheds dead skin, thus leaving room for new cells to grow
- Euchalyptol – an essential oil made up of 90% eucalyptus. Eucalyptol has the ability to stimulate the immune system and possess antimicrobial properties.
Although medical studies have yet to ascertain whether Listerine is effective at killing fungus, there has been a lot of anecdotal evidence that suggest soaking infected nails in Listerine for at least 15 minutes a day will help to get rid of an infection.
For example, Dr. Ramsey suggests that Listerine, when mixed with apple cidar vinegar, helps to treat athlete’s foot, which is a type of fungal infection. However, that’s not exactly the issue here. What’s interesting is when you scroll down the article to the comments section, you’ll see Dr. Ramsey specifically recommending the use of the original Listerine mouthwash to treat nail infections.
If you’d like to treat a fungal nail infection with Listerine, simply follow these steps:
- Fill a small basin with just enough Listerine in which to submerge the affected fingernail or toenail. The mouthwash should be of the original version and may also be mixed with white vinegar to make a more potent anti-fungal solution.
- Let the infected nail to soak for at least 15 to 20 minutes before rinsing with clean water and drying the infected area thoroughly.
- Repeat this process two times every day until infected nails heal. It may take months for the infection to clear completely, so be advised that this remedy requires dedication.
The human body harbors beneficial microorganisms that maintain good health. When this delicate balance of micro-flora in the body is upset, any number of health problems may surface, including fungal infection of the nails.
Probiotic agents offer an effective way to maintain or restore the healthy balance of bacteria in the body by hindering the growth and spread of infectious nail fungi. In addition, most probiotic compounds contain the lactobacillus bacteria, which secrete a byproduct capable of poisoning Candida.
According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, it’s best to take a probiotics supplement that contains at least 5 to 10 billion colon forming units (CFUs) of the lactobacillus bacteria daily to help boost the immune system and thus encourage healthy nail growth.
Although foods such as yogurt, tempeh, miso, and some types of cheese contain probiotics, it can be difficult to know just how much healthy bacteria they can contribute to improve fungus nail infection. Therefore, it’s always recommended that you use a probiotic supplement. Just make sure that the chosen probiotic supplement comes from a reputable pharmaceutical manufacturer and has no artificial preservatives that may promote the growth of unwanted fungus.
- Corn Meal Soaks
Corn meal mush is an inexpensive treatment for nail fungus that can be easily prepared at home. Although there’s no concrete research on the effectiveness of this remedy, a lot of nail fungus suffers claim that it works. In fact, many people have had success with corn meal foot soaks to treat nail fungus infections as well as athlete’s foot, ringworms, and other fungal problems.
For those interested in trying this natural remedy, here are the treatment steps to follow:
- Pour an 1-inch layer of untreated cornmeal, yellow or white, into a basin
- Add just enough water to submerge the infected hand or foot and let the mixture sit for 30 minutes to an hour. This will allow the cornmeal and water to mix naturally. When ready, the mix should look like a soggy oatmeal mush.
- Soak the infected foot or hand in the basin for 30 minutes. Rinse the mush off and pat the soaked foot or hand dry with a clean towel.
- Repeat this procedure twice a day until the fungus infection clears up.
- Vicks VapoRub
Vicks VapoRub is best known for alleviating colds. Although this treatment for fungal nail infection is not medically approved, applying this formulation on an infected nail may still help.
For instance, in a pilot study  conducted by doctors from the US Air Force, Uniformed Services University, and departments of medicine from various clinics in Bethesda, MD, it was found that 15 of the 18 participants who took part in a study to treat Onychomycosis with Vicks VapoRub had experienced a clinical cure for the condition at 48 weeks. This isn’t too surprising, though, seeing that Vicks VapoRub contains thymol, a compound with antibacterial, antiseptic, and antimicrobial properties.
To use this cost-effective treatment for fungal infection, just dab a small amount of the topical medication on the infected nail daily. Continue with this remedy until signs of a healthy nail begin to appear.
While most homeopathic and home remedies for fungal nail infection are not clinically approved, they’re often gentler on the body and do not bring about unbearable side effects (unless you happen to be allergic to any of the ingredients).
But despite the gentler effects these home remedies may have on your body, take note that they may require a longer time to work. And even when they do, the results may not be permanent.
Some of these alternative remedies may also be a hassle to use. So, for easier or faster ways to get rid of nail fungus, consider surgery or laser treatments that have been explained below.
Doctor Prescribed Ways to Treat Nail Fungus
Fortunately, there several ways to get rid of nail fungus. Most treatments aim to eradicate the causative organism and restore the normal appearance of healthy nails. Treatment options range from self-care remedies, to medications recommended by a general practitioner, to ointments bought over-the-counter without a prescription.
It’s important to note that repeat infections are common even with treatment. What’s more, remedies are not all equally effective with some even causing possible side effects.
With that in mind, here are some of the top ways to treat and get rid of nail fungus at home.
#1: Oral Prescription Drugs
Commonly prescribed oral treatments for nail fungus include:
Alternatively known as Lotrimin, this anti-fungal medicine is prescribed if the fungal nail infection has been caused by Candida or dermatophyte fungi that are associated with athlete’s foot and ringworms.
Once processed in the liver and delivered by blood to the infected area, Clotrimazole acts by breaking and dissolving the cell walls of the disease-causing fungi. Despite being highly effective, this oral drug can instigate side effects such hives, itchiness, redness, swelling, and cause blisters in some people.
- Terbinafine (Lamisil)
This drug is prescribed if the dermatophytes responsible for infection result in either white superficial or distal subungual onychomycosis. Like Clotrimazole, Terbinafine is not devoid of side effects. In addition to headaches and gastrointestinal issues such as stomach upsets and nausea, Terbinanfine can also cause hives and itchy rashes.
Before commencing treatment with this oral drug, blood samples will be taken and sent to the laboratory for liver function tests.
Terbinafine is available as a cream or lotion for patients who prefer not to take the drug orally.
- Itraconazole (Sporanox)
Also sold under the brand names of Sporanox and Onmel, Itraconazole is an antifungal agent that’s used to treat infections caused by molds or yeast (Candida). It has been chemically formulated to inhibit synthesis of ergosterol, a cell membrane sterol that’s essential to the survival of fungi and protozoa.
While Itraconazole can be quite effective, some patients may develop side effects such as cold-like symptoms, mild itching, diarrhea, and joint pain.
This drug is primarily fungistatic, meaning that it inhibits fungal growth. While Fluconazole is a medicine for Candida infections, it can also be used against dermatophyte related nail fungus.
Some of the side effects that might occur when medicating on Fluconazole include rash, elevated liver enzymes, nausea, abdominal pain, diarrhea, and dizziness.
It’s important to point out that although many oral antifungal medications are associated with side effects, negative reactions only occur in less than 1% of patients. Nonetheless, it’s always advisable to consult a physician and discuss about risks before starting treatment with any antifungal medication mentioned above.
Efficacy and Doses for Oral Antifungal Drugs
Among all available prescription drugs for nail fungus, anti-fungal pills are the most effective since they deliver medication via the bloodstream. With that said, cure rates vary heavily on the chosen oral drug. Some nail fungus treatment via oral tablets can last for several months and the dose duration will further depend on the chosen oral medication.
- Terbinafine Tablets
Terbinafine tablets are taken on a pulse-dosing schedule, which simply means that the medicine is taken daily throughout the entire treatment duration. For toenail infections, the tablets need to be taken once a day for 12 weeks. For fingernail infections, a patient will require medication for up to 6 weeks.
- Oral Azoles
Oral azoles are also taken daily, with doses lasting for 3 to 18 months depending on the medicine. Unlike the daily schedule required for Terbinafine, this class of antifungal drugs is used according to a weekly pulse-dosing schedule. As a result, some people may find it cheaper to treat fungal nail infections with this medicine.
No matter which prescriptive drug you ultimately decide to use, remember that it’s important to complete doses even if symptoms clear up after a few weeks. Stopping the medication too early can cause an infection to return.
Precautions and Contraindications for Oral Drugs
Oral Onychomycosis antifungal medications are not suitable for every individual. While pharmaceutical drugs can get rid of nail fungus, they can also cause unwanted side effects and serious drug-to-drug interactions. As a result, physicians do not normally prescribe these drugs to people who are already using certain medications.
- May Interfere With Other Medications
Oral antifungal pills can interfere with other drugs that help to treat or manage conditions such as diabetes, HIV, cancer, Cellulitis, and psoriasis. Individuals with liver disease or cognitive heart failure are also advised to keep away from oral nail fungus prescriptions.
- May Harm the Liver
Since most oral antifungal tablets must be processed in the liver, several rare hepatic side effects can occur. Due to this risk, liver enzymes may be checked before starting Onychomycosis treatment even if the patient has no history of liver disease.
In some treatments, liver function may be inspected again after four weeks. It’s important to keep track of any signs of liver disease like jaundice (yellow skin or white eyes), fatigue, dark urine, malaise, upper body pain, or pale colored stool, and report these signs to your doctor immediately when using any prescription medications to treat nail fungus.
- May Not Be Suitable For Breastfeeding Mothers
Some studies have found that traces of oral medications like Terbinafine and azoles can find their way into the milk of nursing mothers. The effects of such drugs on babies and unborn fetuses remain largely unknown. As such, a majority of oral Onychomycosis antifungal medications are contraindicated for nursing or pregnant women.
- Does Not Interact Well With Alcohol
Patients deemed fit to take oral medications for nail fungus should also ensure not to take alcohol during treatment. The reason for this is that damage to the liver is increased when these drugs are taken with alcohol.
#2: Topical Applications
Topical anti-fungal medications usually come in the forms of paint-on lacquer, cream, or ointment, and they’re rubbed onto the infected nail and surrounding skin several times a day.
Depending on how advanced the infection is, topical applications may take up to one year to clear a nail fungus infection since these creams have to penetrate deep into the nail bed in order to kill underlying fungi.
Most of the time, nails will get in the way of these topical treatments, which explains the long treatment duration. However, nail filler or a non-prescription lotion containing urea may be used to thin the nails and thus increase the efficacy of topical medications.
Topical nail fungus creams and ointments drugs tend to work better when paired with oral anti-fungal tablets. Common topical agents used to treat nail fungus include:
- Ciclopirox (Penlac)
If a fungal nail infection proves difficult to cure with modern treatments or becomes too painful, surgery may be considered as a treatment option. Surgical nail removal is also ideal for removing ingrown nails resulting from severe or recurring fungal nail infections.
This approach involves surgically removing the infected nail so that a new one can grow back in its place. Depending on how advanced the infection is part of the nail (debridement) or the entire nail (avulsion) can be removed. Surgical nail removal is rarely required if treatment for nail fungal infection is started early.
This is what a typical surgery process looks like:
- A surgeon carrying out this minor operation will first inject the infected finger or toe with local anesthesia to prevent pain.
- Once the diseased nail is removed, an antibiotic ointment is then applied to the exposed nail bed.
- The wound is finally covered with gauze and tape.
Potential Surgery Risks
Some of the risks associated with this procedure include post-surgery pain, infection, and abnormal nail growth. And although surgery can eradicate the underlying fungi completely, it can take up to one year for a new nail to grow back fully, which is a very long time.
#4: Laser Treatment
Laser treatment is another option that’s available for treating nail fungus infections. During treatment sessions, a specialist will use special equipment that focuses tiny pulses of light through the infected fingernail or toenail. The treatment is fast and effective, usually taking no more than 30 to 45 minutes to complete.
How Onychomycosis Laser Treatment Works
Research indicates that most fungi are sensitive to heat and the basic premise of a laser treatment is to heat the nail bed to temperatures that disrupt fungal growth. However, a number of laser systems do more than simply stunt growth of the underlying nail fungi. For example:
- 1046 YAG Laser Treatment
The 1064 YAG laser kills fungus using a specific wavelength through selective photothermolysis. This simply means that the laser beam increases temperature on the nail bed to a point where the fungi die off due to intolerable heat.
- Noveon NaiLaser Treatment
Noveon NaiLaser is yet another alternative FDA-approved laser treatment therapy for nail fungus that uses cooler temperatures than the 1064 YAG system. However, both laser systems ensure that the healthy tissue around the nail remains unharmed while only targeting the fungus.
- Lunula Laser Therapy
The Lunula Laser therapy is a third FDA and CE certified therapy for treating fungal nail infections. This laser therapy works by stimulating the body’s immune system to fight off the disease causing fungus.
New light-based therapies for fungal nail infection treatment are always being invented as laser technology continues to evolve. While these procedures are painless, they’re not widely available and can be expensive. Additionally, not everyone can qualify for laser fungal nail infection treatment. For example, people with compromised immune systems or extremely poor circulation may be advised not to have the procedure.
When it comes to efficacy, research findings show that laser and light-based therapies are very effective at treating fungal nail infections. In fact, some studies report a success rate of up to 95.4% in just two months of treatment.
Self-Care Tips to Observe During Treatment
Taking the following measures can increase the success rate of any fungal nail infection treatment. Adhering to the suggestions below can also prevent the condition from developing in the first place or reduce chances of re-infection after treatment:
- Do not walk barefoot in public places like gyms or swimming pools. Wear a clean pair of waterproof flip-flops when using communal showers.
- When conducting wet jobs like dish washing, cooking or house cleaning, wear rubber gloves to keep infected fingernails dry.
- Make it a habit to wash hands and feet with soapy water or a natural homemade anti-fungal solution every day in the evening and just before going to bed.
- Always keep your feet clean and dry because nail fungus bacteria thrive in a warm and moist environment. Ensure to clean between fingers and toes and wipe these areas thoroughly after washing hands or feet.
- Keep nails short and clip them from the sides so that topical medications can reach the nail bed with ease.
- Avoid getting pedicures at massage parlors and look after your own nails until the infection clears up. Make sure to use a separate clipper or nail file on the infected nail(s) to prevent the infection from spreading.
- Avoid wearing non-breathable hosiery or socks as these can cause excess moisture and aggravate fungal infections on toenails. Opt for cotton socks instead of nylon as these natural fabrics will allow your feet to breathe. Also, changing socks every day or after a sweaty workout at the gym will help to keep toenail fungus under control.
- It may be a good idea to wear open footwear until the infection clears. If you must wear shoes, choose footwear that allows your feet to breathe. Gym footwear as well as shoes worn daily should be kept clean. Having several pairs of shoes is advisable as this will make it possible to rotate shoes so as to have clean footwear at all times.
Complications: What If The Infection Is Left Untreated?
If the nail fungus spreads deeper into the nail bed, it will cause the nail to thicken and turn green, yellow, brown, or black. As the infection progresses, the infected nail becomes brittle and pieces of it will start to break off from the toe or finger completely. Should the condition be left untreated, it can spread to other nails or cause skin around the infected nail to become inflamed. In more advanced stages, a foul smell may develop and white or yellow patches may be seen on the exposed nail bed. Over time, severe fungal nail infections can cause permanent damage to the nail root or nail bed.
It can be quite embarrassing to have this condition since this is an infection that’s hard to hide. People with Onychomycosis may also find it difficult or painful to wear shoes, walk, or stand for long periods of time if their toenails have been infected severely.