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What Is Toenail Fungus: Types, Causes, Symptoms, and Remedies

Toenail fungus can present itself in several ways, such as thick and discolored nails.

It’s far more common than fingernail fungus, and up to 12% of the world’s population is affected.

Fortunately, it doesn’t often have severe consequences and can be treated at home.

What Is Toenail Fungus?

Toenail fungus is a type of infection that gets in through your toenail cracks or skin cuts.

It can change the color of your toenail, as well as make it thicker.

What Causes Toenail Fungus?

As its name suggests, toenail fungus is caused by different types of fungi.

The most common type is dermatophyte, but yeast and mold can also be significant causes.

Anyone of any age can deal with toenail fungus at some point, although it’s most common in older adults.

When the toenails become dry and brittle, the nail can easily crack as they do in older adults.

Unfortunately, these cracks can lead to fungi entering the crevice and disrupting the health of the nail.

Toenail fungus is also common in those with low blood circulation and weakened immune systems.

What Are the Symptoms of Toenail Fungus?

There are plenty of symptoms of toenail fungus, many of which I’ve experienced myself.

The most common once include:

  • Distorted and deformed toenails
  • Thickened toenails
  • Yellow-brown or whitish discoloration
  • Darkened parts of the nail due to debris
  • Foul-smelling toenails
  • Crumbled, ragged, and brittle toenails

What Are the Types of Toenail Fungus?

There are four different types of toenail fungus.

They include yeast infections, white islands, distal toenail infections, and proximal toenail infections.

Yeast Infections

The prevalence of Candida albicans yeast can cause significant toenail infections.

It’s one of the rarer forms since it typically occurs in children born with immune system disorders.

The more extensive the yeast infection is, it can also affect the torso, mouth, scalp, and nails.

White Islands

White islands are a result of superficial toenail fungus, and they are incredibly common across ages.

Often, white and cloudy-looking islands will appear on the nail’s surface and near the nail bed.

Distal Toenail Infection

Another common type of toenail fungus occurs when the nail is lifted from the nail bed, allowing fungal production.

As the fungus enters the tissue, it can lead to discomfort.

Often, this occurs when the toes are restricted due to poorly fitting shoes.

Proximal Toenail Infection

With weakened immune systems, fungus finds it easier to enter the nail bed.

Proximal toenail infections occur when the cuticle area is affected by different types of fungi.

What Are the Stages of Toenail Fungus?

The stages of toenail fungus are easy to spot, especially since they are mostly visual.

I received the appropriate treatment at the beginning stages due to the apparent difference in my nails.

Color Changes

The first stage likely noticed is a change in the color of the toenails.

They might become more gray, brown, or have an abnormally deep yellow color.

Ridges

By looking at the surface of the nail, there could be the appearance of raised ridges.

Nail Thickening

Another common sign that helped me to begin treatment was the thickening of my toenails.

I began to see that my nails were thicker than they had ever been.

Foul Odors

As the fungal infection worsens, a foul-smelling odor can typically be noticed near the nail area.

It’s essential to pay close attention to the stages of toenail fungus to get treatment immediately.

If left untreated, the infection can begin to spread, which can lead to significant trauma.

What Treatment Is Available for Toenail Fungus?

Toenail fungus can be challenging to treat because the fungus needs to be killed.

Often, prescribed medications appear to work the best but will require several applications over a long period.

A few other treatment options include:

Antifungal Drugs

Antifungal drugs are typically taken orally and are often the first choice for treatment because they’re more effective.

Lamisil and Sporanox are two typical examples that doctors often prescribe.

These medications help the new sections of the nail grow without infection, replacing the infected portions.

Most drug treatments can take up to 12 weeks to show the eradication of the fungus.

Medicated Nail Cream

Instead of oral treatments, topical ointments can be recommended, especially for those with pre-existing conditions.

Also known as anti-fungal cream, it is applied to the affected area after soaking.

I preferred the medicated nail cream because it was easy to apply and was the most comfortable to use.

Most medicated nail cream will come with two products to help eliminate the fungus.

One product will contain urea, which is responsible for softening the nail to remove layers.

The second product, typically a cream, will contain bifonazole, which has antifungal properties.

When applying medicated nail cream, the affected area should be soaked for ten minutes before using the urea-based treatment.

Once applied, the affected area should be bandaged for 24 hours and soaked for ten more minutes.

The top layer can then be scraped with a scalpel, and the anti-fungal cream is applied.

Often, medicated nail cream must be applied for a minimum of four weeks before you notice a significant difference.

Medicated Nail Polish

Another standard topical treatment for nail fungus is specialty polishes with antifungal properties.

Like medicated cream, these topical treatments are ideal for those with mild to moderate infections.

Doctors will consider the following criteria when prescribing these products:

  • The base of the nail must not be affected
  • Only some nails show signs of infection
  • Less than half of the nail has a fungal infection

Surgery

In more severe cases, surgery might be the only option to remove toenail fungus entirely.

Often, doctors will temporarily remove the nail so that anti-fungal treatments can be applied directly to the infection.

Depending on the fungus in the nail, it might not respond well to oral or over-the-nail treatments.

Toenail Fungus in Kids

Over 20% of toenail fungus infections occur in adults over 60, making it rarer in children.

However, if a fungal infection is suspected, it’s essential to seek medical care.

Presentation

In children, toenail fungus will cause discoloration of the nail and thickness changes, similar to adults.

Children might also begin to experience toe pain and crumbling nails.

It’s more likely for children to experience toenail fungus from consistent exposure to moisture and warmth.

Treatment

With a diagnosis, children will often be prescribed medication to assist with eradicating the infection.

It’s also important that the hands and feet are kept clean and dry during treatment.

Parents need to take special care to ensure the child’s socks and shoes are clean and dry before wearing them.

Another significant part of treatment is to trim the toenails because the infection grows out continually.

It can also be beneficial to consider sprays and anti-fungal powder to put in the child’s shoes.

Always avoid nail polish and fake nails when treating a fungal infection in children.

The majority of doctors rely on topical treatments because children have thinner nails.

The thinness of the nails can make topical treatment far more effective than in adults.

However, if the infection has spread to several nails, oral medication could be necessary.

Do I Need To See a Podiatrist for Toenail Fungus?

Podiatrists specialize in foot medicine, which makes them an excellent resource for assistance with toenail fungus.

You may also be able to get a diagnosis from your doctor and get treatment in your family physician’s office.

Knowing what type of doctor to seek depends on the services offered by a family physician.

Although it’s not required to visit a podiatrist for toenail fungus, it can be preferred in some cases.

Since they specialize in foot medicine, they can recommend a reliable course of action to prevent further infection.

Common Toenail Fungus Questions

Does Toenail Fungus Go Away by Itself?

Unfortunately, toenail fungus does not go away on its own.

Without treatment, it can gradually worsen and affect other areas of the body and other nails. 

The more extensive it gets, the more likely it is to cause significant pain when walking.

Toenail fungus is most dangerous for individuals with Type 2 Diabetes.

The disease is twice as likely in diabetic feet, and some of the most severe cases can lead to amputations.

It’s also important to consider seeking medical attention if significant changes in nail color occur.

Leaving toenail fungus to go away on its own can cause the nail to turn a dark brown or black color.

It can also cause the nail to begin pulling away from the bed, which can be incredibly painful.

Even though it’s a widespread ailment to live with, it can also be quite hazardous based on current medical conditions.

Does UV Light Kill Toenail Fungus?

Recent research has found that UV light can be an effective treatment for toenail fungus.

By applying germicidal ultraviolet C radiation, infected nails showed a significant reduction in fungal cells.

However, the treatment must be conducted safely by a professional.

Another attractive option to use UV light to kill toenail fungus is a UV shoe sanitizer.

These unique devices can kill up to 99% of fungus inside shoes, especially in hard-to-reach areas.

They can also be used for treating toenail fungus at-home, as long as they’re used properly.

Can I Put Peroxide on My Toenail Fungus?

When dealing with a mild case of toenail fungus, hydrogen peroxide could be an inexpensive and convenient solution.

For topical concerns, the peroxide can be directly applied to the toenail’s surface using a sterile swab.

It can also be beneficial to add the peroxide to water and soak the feet for up to twenty minutes.

The disinfecting components of peroxide can help reduce the prevalence of topical fungal infections.

Will Bleach Kill Toenail Fungus?

Some groups believe that applying bleach to the toenail can be a beneficial treatment for fungus.

However, medical professionals advise against it because bleach isn’t safe for the skin.

By continually applying the cleaning solution to the affected area, the surrounding skin can be significantly damaged.

What About a Bleach Pen for Nail Fungus?

Similar to ordinary household bleach, it’s best to avoid using bleach pens to kill nail fungus.

Often, the bleach in pens is significantly concentrated to remove stains from clothing and upholstery.

By applying it to the toenail, the high concentrations can lead to significant skin trauma.

The majority of stories about using bleach pens to cure fungus are purely anecdotal.

That said, if a bleach pen is the only option, the solution must be applied only to the nail.

It can also be beneficial to bandage the affected area so the bleach doesn’t spread to surrounding tissues.

Will Alcohol Kill Toenail Fungus?

Similar to peroxide, alcohol can assist with treating some forms of fungus.

With that said, it has proven to be useful for topical infections and athlete’s foot.

It can help prevent significant infections from occurring.

Still, if there are microscopic traces of fungus left behind, re-infection will occur.

Can Toenail Fungus Kill You?

Fungal infections can be dangerous, especially if the condition continues to worsen over time.

One of the significant effects of fungal infections is when the skin begins to crack, allowing bacteria to get in.

When this happens, cellulitis might occur, resulting in tender and swollen skin that requires antibiotics.

If cellulitis is left untreated, the infection can then get into the bloodstream and cause deadly effects.

Can You Get Toenail Fungus From a Swimming Pool?

It’s a common myth that toenail fungus dies in chlorine, much like parasites, viruses, and bacteria.

However, the fungi causing toenail concerns thrive on the outskirts of jacuzzis and pools and in it.

People often contract a toenail fungus from swimming pools and changing rooms because of this misinformation.

Showering before and after entering a pool is essential to prevent fungi transmission, like wearing swimming shoes.

Is Toenail Fungus Contagious?

One of the things that make toenail fungus hard to get rid of is that it’s highly contagious.

After my infection, I learned that it could be spread either directly or indirectly, especially in warm and moist environments.

Swimming pools, gyms, locker rooms, and communal showers are havens for fungal infections.

Not only was I at risk for spreading my fungus to others, but other areas of my body, as well.

How Can I Hide My Toenail Fungus?

Hiding toenail fungus can be easy with antifungal nail polish.

Inside of these specialty polishes are antifungal treatments that work directly on the nail.

Alternatively, socks are a great way to hide nail fungus, as long as they are moisture-wicking and breathable.

Does Sunlight Help Toenail Fungus?

As mentioned, UV light has proven to be useful in the treatment of toenail fungus.

UV light is a significant component of sunlight exposure, although plenty of it will be needed.

Since the light isn’t as concentrated, consistent exposure to the sun’s UV rays could help up to six months.

One of the many reasons sandals are recommended for toenail fungus is that they keep feet exposed to the sun.

Can Tea Tree Oil Cure Toenail Fungus?

Tea tree oil is one of the longest-standing remedies for fungus concerns thanks to its antiseptic properties.

I found that it helped with eliminating some of the foul odor that came with my fungal infection.

The problem is its ability to cure long-term nail fungus is less useful than prescription treatments.

When applied topically, tea tree oil can help remedy surface fungus, but it needs to be applied consistently.

Since the results aren’t immediate, it can give the fungus time to grow, increasing infection risk.

One of the better ways to use tea tree oil to help with toenail fungus is to add it to a foot soak.

By combining a few tea tree oil drops to warm water, an antiseptic foot soak is created.

Before scraping away the nails’ surface layers or cutting the skin, it can help disinfect the affected area.

Also, when used in combination with prescription treatments, it can help reduce unappealing odors.

Can Toenail Fungus Live in a Bathtub?

Like any other area where warmth and moisture are prevalent, bathtubs can be a concern with toenail fungus.

There are also many other bathroom areas to be wary of, such as bathmats and tile floors.

It is essential to disinfect any bathing areas with bleach to prevent the spread of the fungus.

How Long Does Toenail Fungus Live on Surfaces?

The prime retail space for fungal spores is any surface trapped in a warm and moist environment, such as shoes.

On average, the spores can live up to twenty months if the area isn’t disinfected.

For other surfaces, such as flooring, that don’t stay moist, the spores can last up to twelve weeks until cleaned.

One of the essential parts of preventing a second fungal infection is to focus on disinfecting shoes.

By using UV sanitizers and antifungal sprays, the inside of shoes can be thoroughly cleaned.

Can I Wear Nail Polish With Toenail Fungus?

Apart from warm environments, the fungus can also thrive in dark and wet spots.

One thing I wanted to do with my fungal infection was to cover it up with regular nail polish.

Doing so gave the fungus the perfect environment to thrive and made it impossible to treat adequately.

When using opaque nail polish, each coat creates a layer where the fungus can spread to.

It also creates a thick layer of material that prevents topical treatments from accessing the source of infection.

This doesn’t mean, though, that you should avoid cosmetic nail polish.

With the combination of medicinal fungal nail polish, cosmetic polish can be applied on top.

Since the medicated polish is closest to the nail bed, it will eliminate the fungus.

Does Nail Polish Help Toenail Fungus?

A fantastic alternative to traditional polish is to use medicated toenail polish.

The specialty formula features antifungal medicines that work at the source of the infection while hiding nail discoloration.

This instance is the only time that nail polish could help ward off toenail fungus.

Most of the medicated nail polishes will contain one of two antifungal ingredients.

Amorolfine is an antifungal chemical applied once or twice weekly.

Ciclopirox is another standard option, which needs to be applied every other day for the first month.

In the second month, Ciclopirox nail polish should be applied twice per week.

For the third month, it can be applied once weekly.

When using antifungal nail polish, there are a few steps to take before applying.

First, the old polish layer should be removed using acetone and then cleansed with alcohol.

The new layer of polish can then be applied, based on the doctor’s instructions.

Cosmetic nail polish can often be applied on top of the medicated polish.

Can You Get Toenail Fungus From Sharing Nail Polish?

According to Doug Tumen, DPM, FACFAS, nail polish is the leading cause of toenail fungus.

Not only does it help harbor harmful fungi, but it can also be spread in commercial environments.

Even though nail polish contains plenty of chemicals, none of them are effective at killing fungi.

Can You Get a Pedicure If You Have Toenail Fungus?

Getting a pedicure with toenail fungus won’t affect the person with the infection, but it can affect others.

I opted to avoid salons until my infection cleared simply because I didn’t want to spread the fungus to other patrons.

If a pedicure is unavoidable, it’s essential to notify the nail technician ahead of time.

Most salons are aware of working around toenail fungi, such as using disinfected equipment and disposable tools.

Do Pedicures Get Rid of Toenail Fungus?

There’s no evidence to suggest that pedicures get rid of toenail fungus, but they can help ease some of the symptoms.

For example, foot soaks are a fantastic way to soften the tissues around the nail to reduce inflammation and pain.

Also, thinning the nail is typically required before applying topical agents to help kill fungi.

If possible, it’s best to do pedicures at home to avoid spreading the infection to others.

How To Clean Shoes After Toenail Fungus

It’s possible to reinfect nails with toenail fungus even after receiving treatment.

Closed-toe shoes provide the perfect environment for spores to thrive, so cleaning shoes is essential.

The best option for keeping shoes sanitary is to use antifungal sprays and powder to eliminate any growth.

The steps are as follows:

Step #1: Prepare the Shoes

First, I put my shoes on the table and removed the laces to access every part inside the sneakers.

I also decided to do the cleaning in a well-lit area and chose a dry and cool location in my home to let them dry.

It’s best to opt for a spot with direct sunlight.

Step #2: Treat the Shoes

Using an antifungal spray designed explicitly for toenail fungus, I sprayed the entire inside of my shoes.

Most of the spray was concentrated in the toe box, where the fungus would be most prevalent.

Step #3: Dry

The next step of the process was to let the shoes dry.

Sometimes, it can be best to leave them outside as long as it’s dry and in direct sunlight.

I preferred to leave them in the dining room because it has the highest number of windows.

Step #4: Treat Again

As a precaution, I decided to treat my shoes a second time to ensure all fungus traces were removed.

After they had dried, I applied an antifungal foot powder for extra protection.

Best Toenail Fungus Products

When fighting toenail fungus, antifungal products are essential for at-home treatments.

Below are some of my favorite options that are user-friendly and proven to work well.

Toenail Fungus Shoe Spray

Toenail fungus shoe spray is one of the necessary items to have, especially to avoid buying new shoes.

There are many types of spray on the market, ranging from liquids to liquids that turn to powder.

It’s a good idea to opt for antifungal sprays that also come with essential oils to add a pleasant scent to the shoes.

BEALUZ Fungal Nail Treatment Kit

BEALUZ Fungal Nail Treatment Liquid and Cream Kit, Repair Fungal Infected Nails, Effectively Stopping Fungus and Restore Healthy Nails

Restoring natural and healthy nails is simpler with the help of this kit.

It comes with an easy-to-use liquid and cream that helps with acute to moderate toenail infections.

First, I applied the liquid and then used the antifungal cream as the finishing treatment.

I found that combining both of the products helped effectively eradicate surface fungus after a couple of uses.

One of the main features I appreciated is that both products worked to eliminate fungus naturally.

Instead of relying on harmful and toxic chemicals, a natural solution can often be preferable.

There are plenty of herbal-based active ingredients that work to eliminate fungus and nourish the nail.

I began to notice a significant reduction in nail discoloration and thickness within a week of use.

Also, the treatment is completely painless and only needs to be applied once every two days.

After work, I would apply the treatment to my nails after cleaning and soaking my feet.

Unlike other topical ointment products I had tried, the cream absorbed into the nail and skin for extra moisture.

Kerasal Fungal Nail Renewal Treatment

Kerasal Fungal Nail Renewal, Restores Appearance of Discolored or Damaged Nails, 0.33 fl oz

Another phenomenal product highly recommended for renewing the look of the toenails is Kerasal Fungal Nail Renewal Treatment.

It was one of the OTC treatments my doctor recommended, especially for improving my nails’ appearance.

When used along with the antifungal treatments I was provided, I found that I wasn’t as embarrassed by my toes.

In my case, I began to see noticeable differences within two days of the first application.

The cream helped reduce the brittleness of the toenails by providing an ample amount of hydration.

It also assisted with reducing the yellow and brown discoloration of my toes.

Applying the cream is also quite simple since it features a silicone tip applicator.

This design helped ensure I didn’t spread the fungus to my fingernails or my other toenails.

Alternatively, I would use a sterile cotton swab to apply the cream directly to my nails.

When applied, the Kerasal Fungal Nail Renewal Treatment penetrates the layers of the nail plate.

As it works, it softens and loosens damaged layers, allowing the surface to become smoother.

Daily Remedy Tea Tree Oil Foot Soak

Tea Tree Oil Foot Soak with Epsom Salt - Made in USA - for Toenail Fungus, Athletes Foot, Stubborn Foot Odor Scent, Fungal, Softens Calluses & Soothes Sore Tired Feet - 16 Ounces

There’s something inherently comforting about using a foot soak when remedying toenail fungus.

The Daily Remedy Tea Tree Oil Foot Soak is antiseptic and soothing by combining natural Epsom salt and tea tree oil.

Not only is this product useful for toenail fungus, but it has also proven to assist with athlete’s foot.

The first feature I appreciated was that the foot soak is made with 100% natural ingredients.

Some of the ingredients include pure essential oils, pure Epsom salt, and pure dead sea salt.

After each session, my feet would feel softer and have a tingling sensation that helped reduce inflammation and pain.

More importantly, I began to notice a significant reduction in odors, especially around the nail area.

The blend of pure essential oils is luxurious. The soak smells like spearmint, lavender, eucalyptus, and peppermint.

It also blends seamlessly with warm water without leaving any chunks of salt behind.

With the natural antiseptic properties of tea tree oil, the Daily Remedy Tea Tree Oil Foot Soak can assist with surface fungus.

Lumi Outdoors Natural Shoe Deodorizer Spray

Natural Shoe Deodorizer Spray & Foot Odor Eliminator - Extra Strength Eucalyptus Lemongrass by Lumi Outdoors

While treating my toenail fungus, I wanted to make sure that I could continue wearing my favorite shoes.

Since they had a very unappealing smell, I needed something that would deodorize the insole.

The Lumi Outdoors Natural Shoe Deodorizer Spray was a fantastic choice because it has a multipurpose formula.

Not only did the spray help with the inside of my shoes, but my socks as well.

The formula contains natural and safe ingredients formulated to target unappealing odors.

With the combination of essential oils, my shoes began to smell fresh and clean after a few uses.

Compared to other shoe sprays, I found the lemongrass, tea tree oil, and mint worked better.

Also, the product is made in the USA to guarantee top-quality products were used.

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