Treatments for Toenail Fungus

Don’t want to treat your nail fungus? Maybe it doesn't hurt, and the yellow, thick nails don't bother you. Maybe you think it’ll go away on its own.

But nail fungus doesn't go away by itself. And if you don't treat this infection, there's a chance it could get worse. It could spread to other nails or through your body. It could cause pain when you walk.

Luckily, you have a number of ways to take care of it. Here's a look at what you can try.

Non-prescription options. You can buy antifungal creams, gels, and nail polish at the store and online without a prescription. You might want to try one of them first if the infection doesn't look bad. Some people also swear by home remedies like menthol rub, tea tree oil, mouthwash, or snakeroot extract -- but studies show mixed results.

Prescription polish and creams. Your foot doctor will likely trim your nail and file away its dead layers. He may also take a piece of your nail and send it to the lab to make sure it’s really a fungus, and to find out what type it is.

The doctor might suggest an antifungal drug that you paint on your nails. This may work on its own, or he may suggest you take it with antifungal pills.

Prescription drugs . One of several antifungal pills may help. They work, but it may take many months to do the job. They also come with side effects like nausea, vomiting, and headaches. They may cause liver damage, too, so your doctor will watch you closely while you take them. Be sure to tell her about any other meds you’re taking -- some antifungal pills might not work well with them.

Nail removal. If the infection is deep and you’ve had it for a while, your doctor may want to remove all or part of your nail. A new nail usually grows back, but it might take a year or so. While it's coming back, your doctor will likely give you a cream or other treatment to put on your nail bed to keep fungus away.

Laser treatment. You might have success getting your toenails zapped with targeted lasers. Several types of lasers are used. There isn't a lot of research on them, but so far it seems promising. Laser treatment isn’t covered by insurance, though, and it can cost a lot.

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Other Points to Keep in Mind

Here are some things to think about when deciding on a nail fungus treatment:

If you have a disease like diabetes, your doctor will make sure you treat nail fungus. This illness often makes you more likely to have other problems from minor foot issues.

You may not be able to take antifungal pills because of side effects or because they don’t work well with other drugs you take. If that's the case, try a product that goes onto your nail. Your doctor will call this a topical treatment.

Be patient. Your nails may not look "normal" after treatment. It can take as long as a year to 18 months for your nail to grow out a fungus.

There's a chance the infection can come back -- even if you get rid of it. So take these simple steps to prevent that:

  • Keep your feet clean and dry.
  • Wear shower shoes in public pools, bathrooms, and locker rooms -- and even in your own bathroom.
  • Change your shoes and socks every day.
  • Wear ones that breathe and don't fit too tight.
  • Trim your nails short and straight across.
  • See your doctor if you think your fungus has come back.
WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Stephanie S. Gardner, MD on October 13, 2017

Sources

SOURCES:

American Orthopaedic Foot & Ankle Society: "Toenail Fungus."

American Podiatric Medical Association: "Toenail Fungus."

CDC: "Fungal Nail Infections."

Cleveland Clinic: "How You Can Stop Foot and Toenail Fungus In Its Tracks," "Toenail Fungus."

Columbia University, Go Ask Alice: "Toenail fungus."

Dartmouth-Hitchcock Norris Cotton Cancer Center: "Fungal Nail Infections."

Medscape: "Onychomycosis Treatment & Management."

Tschen, E. Journal of Drugs in Dermatology, February 2013.

Westerberg, D. American Family Physician, Dec. 1, 2013.

Winston, J. Clinical Diabetes, October 2006.

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