Infected Toenail: Treatment and Prevention 

Nail fungus is defined as an infection that is affecting one or more of the nails. These infections may appear as yellow or white spots under the tips of the nails but they can also spread deeper in the nail. When these nail infections spread they can cause serious discoloration of the nails or cause them to thicken and crumbling at the edges. Once affected, patients may find that nail fungus tends to reoccur. Proper treatment is necessary to help you rid yourself of this fungus.

Symptoms and Complications of Infected Toenail

There are several different types of fungus that can affect the nails, each of which will have its own symptoms. However, there are some basic symptoms that you can anticipate if you are suffering from a nail infection.

  • Your toenails will look darker, which is typically caused as debris from the infection builds up under the nails.
  • The nails will thicken, become distorted and may become ragged, brittle or crumble.
  • The nail will also look dull rather than shiny.
  • In some cases your nails may smell bad or will separate from the nail bed as the infection spreads.


  • The infections can damage your nails and can spread to other areas of the body, particularly for those that have a lower immune system.
  • Those with diabetes may have an increased risk of developing a skin infection due to the decreased circulation to the feet. This can also make it difficult for your nail infection to heal properly.

Causes and Risk Factors of Infected Toenail

Fungi can help the body or cause harm. Fungi that cause infections tend to gravitate toward moist environments that are warm such as a shower. If you are exposed to an area that has fungus living on it, these organisms can invade the skin through small cuts or an area where the skin has separated from the toenail. If your feet are constantly exposed to this area you run a greater risk of developing a fungal infection on the nails. Those that have unclean shoes are also at risk for developing this condition. Below are more risk factors. 

  • Aging. As you get older you are more susceptible to developing nail fungus because you have spent more time becoming exposed to different fungi.
  • Working Place. Those that work in humid areas or tend to perspire heavily are more likely to develop nail infections, particularly if they wear shoes and socks that do not allow for ventilation and tend to absorb perspiration.
  • Walking Barefoot. Walking barefoot in moist public areas like showers or pools can increase your risk of picking up an infection.
  • Health Disorders. Those with circulation troubles, a weakened immune system, diabetes or psoriasis tend to develop more nail infections.

Treatments for Infected Toenail

If you believe you have a fungal infection on the nail your doctor will scrape away some of the debris to check it under a microscope. This will help determine what type of organism is causing the infection so the proper course of treatment can be administered.

1. Home Remedies

  • Alcohol. Rubbing alcohol can be effective in killing off contaminants on the food. Soak the toe in the alcohol for 20 minutes each day before bed.
  • Vinegar. Vinegar can be used to kill off bacteria. Mix one part vinegar with two parts water and soak the feet in this mixture. This can be somewhat irritating so only perform this treatment 2-3 times per week.
  • Mouthwash. Soak the affected toenails in mouthwash for 20 minutes daily to help kill off the fungus.
  • Essential Oils. Lavender, thyme or tea tree oil have been found to be effective in curing toenail infections. Dip a cotton ball in the selected oil and apply it to the toes twice daily.
  • Vics VapoRub. Vicks has been reported to help kill off nail infections, but there are no solid reports on this cure. Check with your doctor to see if this cure might be helpful on your infection.
  • AHA Ointments. AHA ointments can be applied daily before bed to help prevent fungus.
  • Hydrogen Peroxide. Use a 3 percent hydrogen peroxide solution on the affected toes 15-20 minutes then dry the toes with paper towels.
  • Grapefruit Seed Extract. Mixing a solution of water or glycerin with grapefruit seed extract and brush it on the toes twice daily, then wipe the nail dry.

2. Medical Treatments

  • Medications. Oral medications are available that will help kill off fungal spores affecting the nails. Itraconazole and terbinafine are commonly prescribed for this treatment. Those that have cellulitis or a family history of cellulitis, a particularly painful nail infection or diabetes may not be able to use these products. Oral medications can be used for 12 weeks; with most results appearing after the nail has had a chance to grow back. Topical medications are also available over the counter. These will not cure an infection as well as oral medications but can help rid you of mild infections.
  • Antifungal Nail Polish. If the nail fungus is mild you can apply a nail polish known as ciclopirox. This medication contains alcohol that will help kill off the spores infecting the nails.
  • Surgery. In serious cases, surgery can be used to remove the toenail so a fresh, unaffected nail can grow in its place. Surgery can also be used to remove portions of the nail bed that have been infected.

Preventions of Infected Toenail

  1. Quit Nail Polish. Nail polish does not give the nail room to breathe and will trap moisture close to the nail, making an infection worse.
  2. Wear Proper Socks. Wearing socks that keep moisture away from the feet will help you keep fungal spores away. If your feet tend to get sweaty, make a point of changing your socks often.
  3. Keep Toenail Healthy. Make a point of keeping the nails trimmed straight. Make a point of keeping the feet dry to prevent providing an environment for fungus.
  4. Apply Antifungal Spray. Antifungal sprays can kill off excess spores that can lead to an infection.
  5. Avoid Cutting Cuticles. Cutting the cuticles will leave wounds that will leave you susceptible to infection.
  6. Seek Professional Help. Your doctor can provide you with proper antifungal medication if home remedies are not adequately treating your infection.