How does nail fungus develop?
Nail fungus, also known medically as onychomycosis or nail mycosis, is a widespread disease that is far more than just a cosmetic problem. If the fungal infection is not treated, it can quickly infect neighboring toenails or fingernails and even the skin. It is all the more important to treat the fungal infestation in the early stages and to prevent it from spreading further.
The cause of nail fungus is usually threaded fungi (dermatophytes), yeasts, or molds that feed on the horny substance of the fingernails and toenails. These fungal pathogens, which love warmth and moisture in addition to the nail building material keratin, find ideal living conditions in the nail bed area or between the toes. If a nail is attacked by fungus, it gradually destroys the keratin layer. This creates tiny, air-filled cavities in the nail plate and it begins to dissolve. The risk of fungal nail infection is particularly high in public swimming pools, saunas, or changing rooms – the humid environment provides an ideal breeding ground for fungal pathogens. If you have a weakened immune system, a previous fungal disease such as an athlete’s foot, or injuries to the nail bed, the likelihood of catching a nail fungus is higher.
How do you recognize nail fungus?
The first warning signs include white spots or stripes on the nail surface. Due to the fungal infection, the nails on the hands or feet appear dull and show yellowish to brownish discoloration, rough spots, brittleness, or cracks. A thickening of the nail plate and the splintering of individual nail layers can also be signs of a fungal attack. By the way, the most common toenails are affected by nail fungus, especially the big toes.
How long does it take for the nail fungus to go away?
Nail fungus is caused by the same pathogens as an athlete’s foot, but it takes significantly longer to get rid of it. The reason: The infection is only “healed” when the affected part of the nail has completely grown out. And that takes time: the fingernails grow an average of two millimeters, the toenails only about one millimeter per month. The complete healing of a fungal infection of the fingernails, therefore, takes around six months, for the toenails it can even take up to twelve months.
Treat nail fungus
It is best to clarify with your family doctor which therapy method makes sense for fungal nail disease. Because the fungal infection should be treated medically as soon as possible so that it cannot spread unhindered throughout the nail and to other nails and then, in the worst case, destroy the entire nail plate.
When treating nail fungus, a distinction is made between internal and external treatment methods with different antimycotics, i.e. drugs with active ingredients that specifically kill fungi or inhibit their growth.
- Externally, antifungal nail varnishes, creams, tinctures, or ointments that are effective against fungi are used, which are regularly applied to the affected nails. Internally, nail mycosis can be fought with drugs that work against the fungal pathogens via the bloodstream.
- Medicines against nail fungus can be divided into two groups: Fungistatic agents prevent the fungus from growing, but do not kill it. Fungicidal active ingredients, on the other hand, kill fungal pathogens and spores.
- In the early stages, the fungal nail infection can usually be brought under control with external treatment methods. If more than half of the nail plate is already infected or the fungus has spread to three or more nails, the antifungal agents should also be taken via tablets or capsules.
Important: disinfect shoes and take hygiene measures
Regardless of which nail fungus treatment makes sense in your case: Do not forget to treat your shoes as well, i.e. disinfect them with a special shoe spray to combat foot and nail fungus pathogens. Because the warm, humid environment inside sneakers, winter boots, and the like offers the fungi optimal living conditions – and you risk being infected again with the pathogens the next time they slip in. In addition, you should wash socks, towels, bath mats, and other textiles that have come into contact with the infected nails at least 60 degrees to remove fungal pathogens and spores.
Treat nail fungus externally: anti-fungal varnishes and creams
Anti-fungal nail polishes with fungicidal and growth-inhibiting ingredients such as amorolfine or ciclopirox, which you can get over the counter in any pharmacy, are uncomplicated and quick to use. Water-soluble varnishes are usually applied to the affected nails once a day, waterproof varnishes based on acrylic or polyvinyl remain on the nail surface for several days or weeks and can only be removed with alcohol or nail polish remover. Combination therapy with a urea ointment, which dissolves the infected nail tissue, and cream for combating fungi that contain, for example, the antifungal agent bifonazole, is also possible. For the external treatment of nail fungus, there are also over-the-counter Anti-fungal ointments and nail fungus pens available that have antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties.
Treat nail fungus internally with tablets
In the case of an advanced fungal attack on fingernails or toenails, the doctor often prescribes terbinafine or itraconazole tablets in addition to external treatment. The antifungal agents reach the nails via the bloodstream and are deposited in the nail tissue. Prescription antifungal drugs usually don’t need to be taken for more than three to four months to successfully clear the fungal infection.
Other medical treatment methods
Laser treatment is to fight another option for nail fungus. The affected nails are irradiated with infrared light or UV light, which is supposed to kill the fungi. However, the effectiveness of laser therapy against nail mycosis has not been adequately proven scientifically. Since the treatment is also not covered by statutory health insurance, it can quickly become expensive for patients.
The surgical nail removal for the treatment of nail fungus is now considered obsolete. Because the procedure is not only painful but also carries the risk that the new nail will grow back deformed. If the nail plate has to be completely removed, preparations with high-dose urea (urea) are usually used today, which gradually soften the nail tissue and finally loosen it.
Nail fungus: home remedies in the check
As with many other health problems, it should be possible to get a grip on nail fungus using natural means. According to internet forums, guidebooks, and the like, the following home remedies fight the fungal infection:
- Apple cider vinegar or other commercially available types of vinegar are supposed to put an end to the fungal pathogens through their antibacterial effect, for example by applying a vinegar-water mixture to the affected nails several times a day or with hand or foot baths.
- Tea tree oil, but also sage and lavender oil, are considered antifungal. The essential oils are said to reduce the growth of fungal spores when applied to infected nails with a cotton swab or pad several times a day.
- The fluoride contained in toothpaste is said to have a fungicidal effect and promote the regression of nail fungus if the affected areas are rubbed with it regularly.
- Another popular home remedy for nail fungus: baking powder, which is either sprinkled on the affected nails after a shower or mixed with water to form a paste and applied to the affected areas to “dry out” the infection in a natural way.
Although home remedies for nail fungus promise to be inexpensive and chemical-free, self-medication is still not advisable. Because unlike medical nail polishes, ointments, and the like, the natural active ingredients cannot penetrate deep enough into the infected nail plate. In addition, the effectiveness of apple cider vinegar, toothpaste, and other common home remedies against nail fungus has not yet been confirmed by medical studies.
If you have caught a nail fungus, you should therefore see your family doctor or a dermatologist, who can make an expert diagnosis and advise you on an appropriate treatment with an antifungal agent. Those who do their own thing with vinegar, toothpaste, or other home remedies run the risk of the fungal nail infection worsening and spreading to other nails or the surrounding skin.