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What Is Toenail Fungus? Common Causes and Possible Treatments

February 8, 2024

Learn more about what toe fungus is, what causes it, and the different treatment methods available for relief in this article.

What Are Fungal Nail Infections?

Fungal nail infections are a common nail condition and occur more commonly on toenails than on fingernails. Nails affected with nail fungus are often discolored, thick, and crumbly. The fungal infections can cause pain and discomfort — and more than one nail can be affected by nail fungus at a time. 

What Causes Nail Fungus?

Fungal nail infections can be caused by many different types of fungi. They get into the nail through tiny cracks and cause an infection. These same fungi can cause Athlete’s Foot by entering your body through cracks in the skin.

How Can I Prevent Fungal Nail Infections?

There are several steps you can take that aid in the prevention of fungal infections: 

  • Keep your shoes, socks, hands, and feet clean and dry at all times
  • Wear breathable shoes and change socks frequently if needed
  • Wash your hands after touching an infected nail
  • Don’t walk barefoot in public places like locker rooms, pools, or spas
  • Keep your nails clean and short
  • Don’t share nail care products with other people

How Are Fungal Nail Infections Diagnosed?

Fungal nail infections are diagnosed by a medical provider who examines the infected toenails or fingernails. The provider may ask about any symptoms you have, such as thick or discolored nails, and may take a sample of your nail to test it for fungus by scraping a small amount of material from under the nail or clipping off a small piece of the nail. This material is then sent to a lab to see if there is any fungus present.

What Are Treatments for Fungal Nail Infections?

Fungal nail infections are difficult to treat and can take a long time to cure but they don’t always need medication. 

  • OTCs: With mild infections, following fungus prevention methods and OTC products can help clear them up.
  • Prescribed Medications: Prescription medications to treat nail fungus are called antifungal drugs and work by killing the fungus. Oral antifungal drugs are usually the first choice for treatment. These drugs have to be taken every day for 6 to 12 weeks and the results aren’t seen until the nail has grown back completely. 
  • Topical Treatments: There are also antifungal nail polishes and nail creams.
  • Nail Operation: In rare cases, the nail has to be removed completely to allow medication to be applied directly to the skin under the nail.

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