How to cure nail fungus: causes, symptoms, treatments
Nail fungus is a widespread condition these days. Contrary to the popular opinion, it is not a social disease. You would think that only people who go to public baths or swimming pools are at risk. Nevertheless, nail fungus occurs in people who never visit such places. So where does it come from, how does it manifest itself, and how to cure it?
Unfortunately, anyone can get nail fungus, or onychomycosis as doctors call it. We should not show negative attitude toward those who have that condition, just like we don’t treat as outlaws those who suffer from flu or common cold. According to statistics, well-off people get nail and foot fungus just as often as others.
- Nail fungus: causes
- The dangers of nail fungus
- How do people get infected?
- How to recognize nail fungus?
- How to cure nail fungus?
- Folk medicine methods for treating nail fungus
- How to prevent nail fungus
- Nail vitamins
Nail fungus: causes
The most common cause of nail fungus is catching the infection in swimming pools, saunas, public showers etc. That’s why in those places you should always use your own footwear. This will help you avoid the risk of infection.
There are also other causes for nail fungus:
- Diseases such as immune system problems, AIDS, diabetes and even being overweight;
- Cracked and injuried nails, cracked skin of the feet;
- Use of antibiotics or oral contraceptives.
The risks of being infected with nail fungus increase with age, approximately doubling every 10 years. The infection often spreads through shared footwear (including house slippers). Most of the time the infection starts on the skin of the feet, then spreads onto the toenails and hands.
The dangers of nail fungus
Besides the visible signs of the disease (yellowing and thickening of the nails, split nails, bad odor, itching), nail fungus is a pathogenic microorganism that affects the entire body.
- Untreated nail fungus opend the door to other infections;
- Onychomicosis causes complications of many other diseases such as diabetes;
- Besides, the fungus can be an allergen and stimulate hypersensitivity. This in turn may exacerbate bronchial asthma, as well as allergic dermatitis and other skin reactions;
- In extremely bad cases, with a prolonged disease or a weakened immune system, nail fungus may cause deep mycosis – the infection of internal organs through the bloodstream.
This is why nail fungus should always be treated and later prevented. Healthy nails and toenails are just as important as healthy hair and skin or fresh breath.
How do people get infected?
How does this pathogenic infection get spread? The fungus that cause the disease contain enzymes that destroy keratin – the protein that skin, hair and nails consist of. Besides, the fungus contains enzymes that decompose collagen and elasting, which are also the building materials for nails, skin and hair. With these enzymes, the fungus decomposes our flesh down to the chemicals it can digest. In other words, the fungus is eating us. Besides, nail fungus consumes silicon, magnesium and other microelements, depleting the human body.
In an infected nail, the largest cavities form between the nail bed and the nail plate. If the condition is left untreated for a long time, there may grow whole colonies of fungus which would be extremely difficult to eradicate. The nail plate reacts to this with yellowing, thickening and becoming brittle.
Deep onychomycosis does not respond to topical treatments, so nail polishes, liniments or similar medicines would be of no use. The fungus is well hidden between the nail and the nail bed, as well as inside the nail plate.
How to recognize nail fungus?
As a rule, nail fungus develops at the outer edge of the nail, at the nail bed or at the sides of the nail. Infected nails change their shape and color; toenails become yellow, dull and rough. The nails thicken, split and chip.
Fungus infection starts in a single nail and later spreads onto other nails, although it may stay unchanged for several years. But it will always lead to destruction of the nail if left untreated.
Despite the fact that there are more than a thousand varieties of fungal infections, most of them do not cause any painful sensations. At the initial stages the infected person may not suspect any problems. Only a few species of Candida fungus may cause pain around the nail or under the nail plate. But those symptoms are extremely rare.
This is why many people with nail onychomycosis go to the doctors – mycologists and dermatologists – at advanced stages of the disease, when the deformation and the coloration of the nail become obvious. Treating onychomycosis at these stages takes a long time and can be problematic. This is why nail fungus, like any other disease, is easier to prevent than to cure.
If you notice a change in appearance in your nails, it is not necessarily a sign of nail fungus. For example, if only your fingernails are affected while the toenails and the skin remain clean, most likely this is not a fungal infection.
Only a mycologist or a dermatologist can diagnose a nail condition after some lab tests.
There are many non-fungal nail diseases, some of which are just as dangerous. But 50% of nail conditions are caused by fungi. Therefore you should pay attention to your nails and refer to a doctor in time if it becomes necessary.
How to cure nail fungus?
In the past, a nail infected with fungus was considered incurable, because the new nail gets reinfected as it grows. A nail with a fungal infection was simply removed. Fortunately, things are different today. But surgical methods are still used at the most serious stages of the disease.
Nail fungus: treatment
To develop a strategy for curing the nail fungus, the doctor needs to examine the patient and perform lab tests. There is no universal solution, the same medicine may work for one kind of fungus and be useless for another one.
It is virtually impossible to cure this condition yourself without going to a doctor. But a common habit of self-treatment plays a large part in the proliferation of the disease. Sometimes a patient refer to a doctor, starts the treatment and then quits after obtaining the initial results. The disease comes back and the treatment must start over; meanwhile the infection spreads to other people.
Nail fungus treatment is based on the following principles:
- Eliminating the risk factors for the infection;
- Using anti-inflammatory liniments suitable for the patient’s condition;
- Using local and general antifungal medicines (in the form of nail polish, pills, vitamin liniments).
How to cure nail fungus?
Onychomycosis is treated with special antifungal preparations. Those preparations may be administered internally (pills, capsules) or applied externally (nail polishes, liniments).
There are also special tools similar to dentist’s drills which are used to remove the thickened part of the nail, thereby improving the medication treatment.
As we said earlier, in complicated cases surgery may be the only solution. This is why you should go to a doctor and start the treatment as soon as you notice the first symptoms.
Depending on the severity of the condition, nail fungus may take from 2-3 weeks to several months to cure.
As we mentioned, there is no universal treatment for nail fungus, but there are preparations suitable for many varieties of nail and foot fungal diseases. Many modern preparations, such as terbinafine (Lamisil) are very effective in not only eliminating the fungus, but also improving the condition of the nails.
Lamisil is available in tablets for oral use or as a cream to be applied topically. It works by inhibiting the synthesis in the fungal cells. It also destroyes the spores of fungal parasites, which helps suppress the infection and clean the human organism from the fungus.
Folk medicine methods for treating nail fungus
Besides going to a doctor, there are folk medicine methods for treating nail fungus. The beauty of this approach is that it uses only natural cures and time-tested methods.
There are many recipes and recommendations for treating nail fungus. Not all of them are effective. And even effective recipes may not be suitable in a particular case. As we mentioned, fungal infections change, mutate and adopt, gaining immunity against our medicines.
Nevertheless, our ancestors have found many useful recipes to cure onychomycosis at home. We are going to share one of them with you, but only as a supplement to special medicines, allowing to speed up the cure and prevent infections afterwards.
Folk medicine methods: anti-fungal liniment
The components for a home made anti-fungal liniment are: 1 raw egg, 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil, 1 teaspoon of dimethyl phthalate and 1 tablespoon of 70% vinegar. Thoroughly mix the ingredients, put in a sealed glass vial and store in the refrigerator.
Use the liniment daily for 2-3 weeks. This will ensure a high probability of successful cure.
If you have an advanced stage of onychomycosis, apply the liniment in the morning and leave it for the entire day.
Keep in mind that during the treatment period you must disinfect your footwear, the floors and other items at least once a month. Use a solution of formaldehyde or acetic acid. Wet a napkin with the solution and place it inside the footwear, then wrap the footwear in a plastic bag and leave for 24 hours.
Prevention of nail fungus
Every day people deal with millions of bacteria and fungus spores. But not everyone gets infected. The infection occurs when our body is weakened. This is why a healthy diet is the most important in the prevention of nail fungus.
In our age of passive lifestyle, regular exercise is very important for maintaining your health and preventing diseases. One would think that nail fungus has nothing to do with exercising, but people who spend most of their day in a static posture have a risk of developing vascular conditions. As a result, the blood flow in the extremeties decreases, which negatively affects the protective functions of the skin on hands and feet.
Uncomfortable footwear is bad for the health of your toenails. You should not use footwear of a wrong size that gives you blisters, or wear rubber boots for long periods of time. This leads to corns, abrasions, blisters, increased sweating and creates perfect conditions for the fungus. Avoid synthetic socks, stockings and pantyhose – they do not allow the feet to breathe. Also, synthetic fibers catch the skin particles, which makes women scrub their feet more often thus increasing the risk of infections.
The ideal places for the fungus to grow are wet and warm places such as bathrooms. We can keep our personal bathrooms clean, but we cannot guarantee the cleanliness in public places. Anti-fungal chemicals are used in most public saunas, baths and swimming pools. But the fungi constantly evolve, mutate and adopt to aggressive environments. So in order to prevent fungal infections, you should take a shower with antibacterial soap or gel after using a public swimmimg pool.
For many years people have been arguing about the safety of nail extensions. Does this cosmetic procedure increase the risk of fungal infections? Modern technologies of nail extension are perfectly safe. So if you have trust in your manicure specialist, you have nothing to worry about. But unprofessional application of nail extensions may damage your nails or impose an overall health risk.
The above holds true for both manicure and pedicure. It is perfectly safe to perform cosmetic procedures at a professional beauty parlor where hygiene regulations are observed. But any cuts, wounds, cracks, hangnails are open gates for all infections, including fungal.
Care for the feet is very important in the prevention of fungal infections. Corns, cracks, ingrown nails or any other problems make a perfect breeding ground for harmful bacteria.
You should always observe daily hygiene: wash your hands and feet, use moisturising lotions and creams, essential and vegetable oils, take vitamins for the nails, do proper manicure and so on.
Anti-fungal nail polishes are useful for prevention of nail fungus. Those polishes are easy to buy and inexpensive, they are transparent and can be used as a base layer for a color nail polish.
- Never use someone else’s footwear, even house slippers.
- Take regular care of your nails and feet.
- If you have excessive foot perspiration, have this problem treated. Try different footwear, preferably loose-fitting breathable leather. If the problem persists, refer to a doctor.
- Before using a public facility where you walk barefoot, treat your soles and toenails with an anti-fungal spray, or bring along a change of footwear.
The main condition of the prevention and treatment of nail fungus is supporting the immune system of the nails. Proper nutrition is just as important for the nails as it is for the rest of the body. The nails require constant care and supply of food, including special vitamins. When the body is lacking certain elements or vitamins, the nails develop problems. They get dry, split, break, get deformed, lose their beauty or get infected with a fungus.
Most of the vitamins in the human body are supplied with the food. It would not hurt to use vitamin pills, but the vitamins in natural foods are much easier for the human organism to absorb.
Synthetic vitamins may be treated as foreign by the immune system and even provoke allergic reactions. Also, drug store vitamins should be taken only with the doctor’s advice, because we cannot easily tell which elements our body is lacking and which ones are in overabundance. As for natural foods, they are safe, but they cannot replenish all the necessary nutrients. So the optimal strategy is the combination of healthy diet and periodic vitamin supplements.
So, which minerals and vitamins do nails need, and what would happen if there is not enough of them?
- When the toenails thicken at the edge and become dry and brittle, it’s usually a symptom of not having enough vitamin A, vitamin D, iodine, magnesium and calcium.
Vitamins A and E are fat-soluble, so you should supply your body with enough fats, especially butter. You should eat cold water fish, pig and chicken liver, fresh fruit and vegetables, cheese and eggs. Vitamin A pills should only be taken according to the doctor’s recommendations. Excess of vitamin A can cause serious harm.
Vitamin E is a companion of vitamin A. They work best together. Vitamin E is contained in nuts, grains, cereal, vegetable oil, yolk, milk, beans etc.
Calcium is plentiful in fermented milk beverages, cheese, meat, fish and seafood, lettuce, eggs, spinach, beans, nuts and figs. Calcium is best digested in combination with vitamin D which is also an important vitamin for the nails.
Vitamin D can be found in fish (especially in the liver), milk, butter, cheese and cottage cheese. It is easily digestible, but most of the vitamin D is produced inside the body with the help of UV light.
Iodine, of course, means seafood: fish, seaweed and mollusks. There is some amount of iodine in lettuce, spinach, carrots, white mushrooms, milk and pineapples.
Magnesium is sourced from beans, sunflower seeds, nuts, cheese, grains, potatoes, kohlrabi, green bell peppers, poultry, whole grain bread, bananas and blackberries.
As you can see, the same food usually contains several different minerals and vitamins that are beneficiary for your nails, so it is not hard to create a balanced diet.
- A very important microelement is silicon which is contained in many plants. With a lack of silicon, nails quickly lose their elasticity and become brittle.
Silicon can be found in plants that are high in fibers, such as oatmeal, bran, rye bread, whole grain flour, celery, dandelion leaves, leeks, fermented milk, radish, sunflower seeds, tomatoes and turnips. Very high in silicon contents are such herbs as horsetail, hemp-nettle, common knotgrass, houndstongue, lungwort, nettle and coltsfoot.
- If your fingernails or toenals are splitting and showing pits or white spots, your body is suffering from the deficiency of vitamin A, vitamin C and zinc.
Vitamin C is plentiful in citrus fruit, potatoes, tomatoes. All bright-colored berries contain large quantities of vitamin C. To give your nails an additional “shock therapy”, you can stick them into the pulp of a lemon. It will make the nails stronger and brighter.
Zinc is contained in grains, beans, nuts, seafood, leeks and other greens.
- When your nails become dull and yellowish, with grooves or stripes, it’s a symptom of vitamin B5, vitamin PP and selenium deficiency.
Rich in vitamin B5 are grains, bran, offal, poultry, eggs, broccoli, yeast. We should mention that all B vitamins are very important for women’s health. They can be found in nuts, sunflower seeds and mushrooms.
Niacin, or vitamin PP, is sourced from the same nuts and sunflower seeds, yeast, cep mushrooms, brown rice, eggs, milk, meat and fish.
Selenium can be found in offal, olives, eggs, blackcurrants, seaweed, bran, garlic. It is selenium that makes the nails smooth and shiny.
- Thin and concave nails with uneven surface and unhealthy color means that your body does not have enough iron.
The main sources of iron are meat, poultry, liver, tuna, oatmeal, green peas, beans, cabbage, squash, berries (especially blueberries and raspberries) and all fruit. Iron is best digested with fluorine and vitamin C.
Fluorine is contained in fish, shrimp, meat, eggs, milk, groats, tea, potatoes, spinach, onions, nuts, apples and grapefruits.
- Deficit of sulfur causes deformation of the nails.
Sulfur comes from fresh lettuce, cabbage, eggplants, onions, garlic, oatmeal and buckwheat.
Vitamin H is very important for the nails and for the women’s beauty. It can be found in meat, liver, kidneys, fish, eggs, milk and cheese. Many plants are also rich in vitamin H.
- Gelatin will help you avoid getting brittle and weak nails.
You should include in your diet various aspic ishes, mousses, marmalades, jelly – all of them contain plenty of gelatin. People with excess of thrombin in the blood should be cautious because gelatin may thicken the blood.
So remember, vitamins A, E and C strengthen the nails, B vitamins and iodine help them grow, calcium makes the nails harder, silicon gives them elasticity, iron creates proper nail structure, and sulfur saves the nails from inflammatory diseases.