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What is Fingernail Fungus?

Karyn Maier
Updated May 17, 2024
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Fingernail fungus refers to an infection of the fingernails that occurs due to the presence of parasitic fungi called dermatophytes. This condition usually begins with an infection in or under the nail of one finger and quickly spreads to other nails, including those of the opposite hand. Despite the name, however, fingernail fungus is not limited to affecting only the fingernails. In fact, the fungus can take up residence in the toenails too.

Also known as onychomycosis, fingernail fungus is most often caused by tinea unguium, a type of ringworm that also causes athlete’s foot. For this reason, fingernail fungus is sometimes referred to as tinea of the nails. The fungi typically gain entry to the nail and the underlying nail bed via cuts and small cracks in the skin. However, molds and yeasts, such as Candida, can also cause fingernail fungus. These types of infections are referred to as non- dermatophytic fingernail fungus and most commonly occur in tropical regions where hot temperatures and high humidity exist.

Certain people may be more vulnerable to developing fingernail fungus than others. For instance, it is more common in women than men, and occurs more frequently in people over the age of 60. Diabetics and others with compromised immunity may also be at higher risk for fingernail fungus. In addition, consistently sweaty feet or the frequent use of public pools or gyms while barefoot may invite a fungal infection that can transfer to the fingernails.

Generally, fingernail fungus is not a serious condition. However, it may have a negative psychological impact since it often causes unsightly discoloration and/or deformity of the nails. It can also cause a fair amount of pain and discomfort and, if the feet are involved, may make walking or just wearing shoes difficult. In addition fingernail fungus can cause permanent damage to nails if left untreated.

Treatment of fingernail fungus does not equate to an immediate cure. In fact, treatment only provides temporary relief until the entire nail is able to grow out and be replaced by a new, healthy nail, a process that takes anywhere from 6-12 months. This is because the same mechanisms that protect the nail bed also provide a safe haven for the invading fungus. However, with persistent treatment, the infection can be successfully eradicated.

The most common prescription medication given to treat fingernail fungus is Lamisil®, which may be taken orally as a tablet or formulated into a cream to be applied to the skin. However, this drug is associated with certain side effects, including potential liver damage when used long-term. Several natural remedies reputedly help to manage fingernail fungus, though. These include the application of apple cider vinegar, hydrogen peroxide, or tea tree essential oil to infected areas.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Karyn Maier
By Karyn Maier
Contributing articles to WiseGeek is just one of Karyn Maier's many professional pursuits. Based in New York's Catskill Mountain region, Karyn is also a magazine writer, columnist, and author of four books. She specializes in topics related to green living and botanical medicine, drawing from her extensive knowledge to create informative and engaging content for readers.
Discussion Comments
By andee — On Jul 06, 2011

If you are looking for a home remedy for nail fungus and have a jar of Vicks Vaporub around, you might want to give it a try. I have not used this myself, but remember reading that this is a possible fingernail fungus treatment.

There is something about the eucalyptus that helps treat the fungus. I think it would be worth a try, and I don't see how it could hurt you in any way. Even though this is not why Vicks was made, many times there are multiple uses for a product.

By myharley — On Jul 05, 2011

Any kind of nail fungus is not a pretty sight. If you have it on your toenails it is easier to hide, but it is hard to hide this if it shows up on your fingernails.

The best treatment I found for fingernail fungus is tea tree oil. I like to use essential oils for many things and when I developed a nail fungus decided to try this before using something else. The tea tree oil helped a little bit, but it wasn't until I added some clove oil and lemongrass that I noticed the biggest difference.

I use sweet almond oil as a carrier oil and pour a few drops of each of the essential oils into this. I applied it several times a day until the fungus began to disappear.

By Mykol — On Jul 05, 2011

I have used apple cider vinegar as a natural treatment for more than one health condition, so was not surprised to hear that it would also help with nail fungus.

My husband had fungus on his toenails, and was told to soak his feet in a solution of half water/half apple cider vinegar for 30 minutes at least 2 times a day. There is something about the acid in the vinegar that helps clear up the infection.

This is something that does work, but is not a quick fix. You have to be consistent about it and give it a few weeks before you see a noticeable difference.

Karyn Maier
Karyn Maier
Contributing articles to WiseGeek is just one of Karyn Maier's many professional pursuits. Based in New York's Catskill...
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