Nail fungus most often affects the toenails, and may be a complication of fungal infections of the foot like athletes foot. What may begin as a white or brown spot on a single nail can turn to crumbling, yellowed, and sometimes painful nails when fungus takes hold. People most vulnerable to nail fungus infections are those who sweat profusely and wear closed-toe shoes, those with weakened immune systems, and people who already have an active fungal infection of the feet. Diabetics are particularly vulnerable to side effects of nail fungal infections, which can include ulcerations on the feet and permanent damage to the nail.
There are a number of home remedies for treating nail fungus, but none have been proven more effective than those proposed by doctors. Some home remedies include coating the nail with vinegar several times a day, eating yogurt, which contains lacto bacillus, a known fungal fighter, and trimming the nail as close as possible. Doctors do recommend that simple changes like wearing moisture wicking socks and open toed shoes can help quite a bit, since fungi thrives in warm, moist environments.
One of the difficulties in treating nail fungus is that the fungal growth is underneath the nail, making it difficult to apply the medication externally. This is why many doctors instead prescribe oral anti-fungal medications. The problem with these oral medicines is that they can be hard on the body, must be taken for 12 weeks, and are normally contraindicated in people who have heart or liver disease. If using an anti-fungal lotion or ointment works, doctors may go this route first since it is easier on the rest of the body.
In some cases, nail fungus is so persistent that doctors feel they should remove the affected nail first so they can treat the source of the infection. This tends to be the most effective way of treating the condition, but it is painful, expensive and is generally used as a last resort for severe fungal infections. There are also several new products on the market, including a prescription anti-fungal “nail polish” that can be tried first to help kill the fungi cells.
While treatment is ongoing, it is important to try to keep the feet cool and dry. If you need to wear socks, use light ones, and change them a few times a day as needed to keep the feet from getting wet. Sandals are really much better if you can wear them, and some type of shower shoes should be worn when you shower to prevent spreading the infection to others.
One concern with the growing popularity of manicures has been the upsurge in nail fungus infections in the fingernails. Though most manicurists spray nails with an anti-fungal spray first, this may not be enough to completely reduce risk. Deciding to visit a manicurist should be weighed with the possibility of fungal infection. Even expensive salons may have this problem. If you have a suppressed immune system or are in poor health, you might want to avoid manicures and pedicures since you are more vulnerable to nail fungus.