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What is Toenail Fungus?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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Toenail fungus is a fungus which can colonize one or more toenails, causing an infection. A number of fungal species will grow on or in the toenail, including the same species which cause fungal infections elsewhere on the body. Onychomycosis, as fungal infection of the toenails is known, is usually a chronic condition and it can be extremely difficult to treat, usually taking weeks or months to clear up even with extremely aggressive medication.

People can pick up toenail fungus in a variety of places. Fungi like warm, moist environments, making gymnasiums, locker rooms, and public pools popular spots for fungi which will infect the nail. People can also develop onychomycosis as a result of wearing shoes which do not allow the feet to breathe, and the fungus can be picked up while walking barefoot in a variety of environments. Sharing shoes with people who have fungal infections can also cause the infection to spread.

As the fungus grows, the nail typically thickens, and it may turn white, yellow, or grayish. It is common to see textural changes such as sharp ridges in the nail, and the nail can also become very brittle or crumbly. In some cases, toenail fungus infections result in the loss of a toenail, which can be very painful. If the infection is not being treated, the nail growing in will become infected with residual fungus.

Antifungal medications can be applied directly to the toenail to treat a toenail fungus infection. It may also be necessary to discard old closed toed shoes and socks, as the fungus may be entrenched and impossible to get rid of. During the healing process, wearing open toed shoes which allow plenty of light and air to circulate around the toenail is recommended, as is wearing sandals in shared public spaces where people might be going barefoot to avoid passing the fungus on to others.

People can reduce the risk of picking up toenail fungus by always wearing shoes in places like locker rooms and public showers, and by making sure that their shoes fit properly. While it is perfectly safe to wear closed toed shoes, it is a good idea to always use fresh socks, and to change socks when they get dirty or moist. It also helps to wear sandals now and then to allow the toes to breathe. Keeping the feet clean and dry will also help cut down on the chance of developing a fungal infection.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By discographer — On Jun 05, 2013

I personally think that prescription antifungal creams are the best toenail fungus treatment. There are natural remedies like vinegar, iodine, menthol and tea tree oil. But they take too long to work and they don't work for everyone.

I've also think that I'm more likely to get toenail fungus in warm, humid climates. I never had toenail fungus when I lived in Nevada because it's very dry there.

Does anyone else agree with this theory?

By donasmrs — On Jun 05, 2013

@ddljohn-- Tea tree oil is a great toenail fungus cure. It takes a while to work, but once you get rid of your fungus with this remedy, it will never come back.

You need to buy pure tea tree oil and apply a few drops on the toenail with the fungus. Repeat this several times a day and continue until the fungus is completely gone. It can take up to four weeks, so be patient.

It's a good idea to do an allergy test on your arm before applying tea tree oil to your toes because some people are allergic.

By ddljohn — On Jun 04, 2013

I think I have toenail fungus. I spent a lot of time at the pool recently, and I've noticed that my nails are slightly yellow. They used to be a clear pink before.

Is there a toenail fungus remedy I can use until I can see the doctor about this?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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