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Onychomycosis, or tinea unguium, is a contagious fungal nail infection that affects approximately 10 percent of the adult population. It is characterized by the nail becoming thickened and discolored—turning yellow, green, or even black. Fungus loves warm, moist environments, so toenails are more susceptible to fungal infection than fingernails—especially if you walk around a pool, locker room, or public shower without shoes. The easiest way to deal with toenail fungus is not to get it at all—and that requires preventative measures to keep your feet fungus-free. When prevention fails, both conventional medicine and natural home remedies offer quite a few options for treatment.

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Anti-fungal cream/polish

Your doctor may prescribe a medicated nail cream to apply to affected areas after soaking. The cream works best when the nail is thinned because it needs to get all the way through to the fungus to treat it. A doctor may thin the nail with a file, or recommend a lotion to use on the nail to thin it. As an alternative to the cream, your doctor may prescribe an antifungal nail polish which is also applied directly to the infected nail.

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Oral antifungal medication

Oral antifungal drugs are usually reserved for moderate to severe cases of fungal infection because they may come with potentially dangerous side effects like skin rash or liver damage. The best results have been seen when oral and topical drugs were taken together to eliminate the fungus.

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Nail Removal

If the fungal infection is severe and painful, your doctor may recommend removing the nail completely. Surgery in combination with a topical drug is a good bet in getting rid of the fungus from that toenail. Sometimes it can take up to a year for a toenail to grow back. 

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Laser/light-based therapy

In the last few years, a new treatment for fungal nail infection has emerged. Some people opt for laser therapy to treat fungus instead of oral drugs because it doesn't come with side effects. However, it is more expensive than treatment with prescribed drugs.

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Essential Oils

Essential oils are antibacterial, antimicrobial, antifungal, and packed with antioxidants. Organic essential oils are 100% natural—the "soul" of a plant. They are also incredibly potent and volatile, making them readily accessible to the body with immediate effects. Certain essential oils are effective in treating fungus. Eucalyptus, oregano, and tea tree essential oils have all successfully gotten rid of toenail fungus, and they may just work for you. Use a carrier oil like almond oil, grapeseed oil, or coconut oil, and mix it with an essential oil. Dab a little bit on the affected area each day.

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Mouthwash soak

Since mouthwash has antifungal ingredients such as thymol, menthol, and eucalyptus, it may help rid you of that nasty fungus hanging out on your toe. Soak the affected toes in mouthwash for 30 minutes a day.

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Ozonized Oils

One study on 400 patients with fungal nail infections found that all patients treated with ozonized sunflower oil had improvement in their condition after three months. 9.5% showed improvement and 90.5% had been cured of the fungus. Oils infused with ozone gas like olive oil or sunflower oil can deactivate fungi, yeast, and bacteria. For best results, apply ozonized oil to the affected nail twice daily.

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Protect your feet

Fungal infections are contagious, so if you walk around barefoot in damp public places, you are at a greater risk for contracting this unpleasant infection. Make sure to bring shower shoes if you're going to be in a public place with water. If you were in a damp public place barefoot, make a foot soak with salt and warm water. Salt hinders fungus from growing further, decreases perspiration, and softens skin to allow the topical antifungal medication to get into the skin, if relevant. Trim toenails regularly, and in between each use, disinfect toenail clippers and files. Use anti-fungal spray or powder for your shoes, and use in between each use. Don't pick at the nail or skin around the nail. When the skin has cuts and cracks, it is more vulnerable to viruses which can easily embed themselves in damaged skin.

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Keep feet clean and dry

If you wear closed shoes most of the time, and your feet sweat and are therefore damp for many hours each day, you have set up perfect breeding grounds for toenail fungus to thrive. Choose sweat-wicking socks, and take off your shoes and socks as soon as you get home from work to allow your feet to breathe and dry. Wash your hands and feet regularly and dry them after each wash.

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Stay healthy

Fungal infections are more likely to appear in older people or people with compromised immune systems. Eating nutritious foods and exercising is a good way to keep the immune system healthy and strong—so you'll be less likely to pick up a fungal infection. Eat plenty of foods with probiotics (e.g. yogurt, kefir, and sauerkraut), iron (e.g. meat, dark leafy greens, and beans), fatty acids (e.g. salmon, chia seeds, and walnuts), and calcium and vitamin D. Toenail fungus can be embarrassing, uncomfortable, and even painful. The best way to ensure protection against this annoying affliction is to wear footwear in public areas at all times. Avoid unreliable nail salons. Eating the right nutrients and engaging in regular exercise will keep your immune system strong so that it can easily fight off any threatening foreign invaders.

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Disclaimer

This site offers information designed for educational purposes only. You should not rely on any information on this site as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or as a substitute for, professional counseling care, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about your health, you should always consult with a physician or other healthcare professional.