Nail fungal infections are the most common diseases of the nails, making up about 50 percent of nail abnormalities. Fungus is normally present on the body, but if it overgrows, it can become a problem.
Nails that are infected with fungus typically are:
darker or yellowish in color
There may be also be:
scaling under the nail – hyperkeratosis
yellow or white streaking – lateral onychomycosis
yellow spots at the bottom of the nail – proximal onychomycosis
infected nails may separate from the nail bed – onycholysis
Nail fungal infections can result in pain in the toes or fingertips, and they may even emit a foul odor.
Another symptom associated with nail fungus infections are fungus-free skin lesions called dermatophytids. These may appear like rashes or itchiness in an area of the body that is not infected with the fungus – much like an allergic reaction.
Treating nail fungus infections can be a long and expensive process. There are oral antifungal medications, topical ointments, and alternative therapies. Over the counter creams and ointments are available, but they have not proved very effective.
Oral medications for nail fungus infection include:
These typically take up to 4 months before fully replacing the infected nail with uninfected nail.
In some extreme cases, a physician will opt to remove the entire nail.
Topical nail fungus treatments can appear clear nail fungal infections, but often do not completely cure the infection.
Other home remedies shown to have potentially promising clinical effects on nail fungus include:
Vicks VapoRub: This is normally used to treat coughs. However, a study published in 2011 suggests that it could be beneficial in nail fungus treatment.
Snakeroot extract: A 2008 study demonstrated that this naturally antifungal plant can be as effective as ciclopirox, a prescription antifungal treatment, in treating nail fungus.
Oregano oil: This contains thymol, which is said to have antifungal properties. Oregano oil is sometimes combined with tea tree oil in treatments, but side effects can be potent and combining them can increase the possibility of an allergic reaction or irritation.
Ozonized oils: Olive oil and sunflower oil are examples of oils that have been infused with the same gases present in the ozone layer. There are numerous studies confirming the benefits of this type of oil in treating nail fungus. In one study, ozonized sunflower oil showed greater clinical effects than the prescribed antifungal medication ketoconazole.
Other alternative medicines used to treat nail fungal infections include Australian tea tree oil, vinegar, listerine, and grapefruit seed extract. However, there is no scientific evidence supporting the use of these products.
Microscopic organisms called fungi cause nail fungal infections; they do not require sunlight to survive so can thrive in these areas.
Most commonly, a group of fungi called dermatophytes (such as Candida) is responsible for nail fungal infections. However, some yeasts and molds also cause these infections; these include:
Trichophyton rubrum – the most common dermatophyte that causes nail fungal infections.
Common mold causes include:
Pathogens that cause nail fungus infection usually enter the skin through tiny cuts or small separations between the nail and nail bed. The fungi grow when the nail provides a suitably warm and moist environment.