When a fungus infects your fingernail or toenail, it can can affect one and spread to the others. The fungus begins with a small spot and spreads deep into the nail. A fungus infection is difficult to treat, but there are medications and methods to treat fungus and prevent its spread. Your doctor may prescribe anti-fungal medication if you do not get results from traditional therapies.


Nail fungus is caused by a bacteria called a dermatophyte. Dermatophytes live in moist, warm environments such as swimming pools, gyms and showers. They get into tiny spaces between the nail and the nail bed. Your toes are more likely to get a fungus infection because they are in dark, closed spaces all the time. Acrylic nails also contribute to a nail fungus. The space between the acrylic and your natural nail is a perfect dark, damp place for a dermatophyte to thrive.

Identifying Fungus

The most common type of nail fungus starts at the end of the nail and causes the nail to separate from the nail bed. This type of fungus is called onychomycosis. Your nail becomes flaky and discolored. If the fungus is on your toenail, it becomes thick, hard to trim and painful when walking and wearing shoes.

Natural Treatments

There are some natural treatments you can try such as soaking your nails in an antiseptic solution of Listerine, vinegar and warm water for 15 to 20 minutes. Make sure you dry your hands or feet after this soak. Vicks VapoRub applied to the feet for toenail fungus is another natural treatment. Essential oils such as oregano, tea tree and lavender oil are anti-fungal, antiseptic and antibacterial and can be used as natural barriers against fungus infection.

Over-The-Counter Treatments

Popular over-the-counter nail-fungus treatments work by using the active ingredient Miconazole, the same ingredient used for a yeast infection. Miconazole inhibits the growth of future dermatophytes, but does not eliminate existing infections. When treating with these types of products, your nail will have to grow until it reaches the stage where the Miconazole has begun to work. Over-the-counter treatments also contain various amounts of essential oils such as tea tree oil. These treatments cost between $7 and $36, with some going as high as $200 for complete treatment.

Prescription Treatments

If home remedies and over-the-counter products fail to give you results, your doctor may prescribe an anti-fungal medication. These medications have a good chance of treating your fungal infection effectively because they enter the nail through the bloodstream. Drug treatment usually takes three months to 18 months for the nail to grow out free of fungus. The FDA has recently approved Penlac, a nail lacquer for nail fungus. This treatment is targeted and topical so it does not have the internal side effects of other medications.

Nail Hygiene

The best way to avoid a nail fungus is with proper hygiene. When you visit the gym or pool, wear shoes to protect your feet from standing water. Wash and dry your feet with antibacterial soap and use a tea tree oil-based cuticle treatment. Use antibacterial soaps and gels to keep your hands clean. If you wear artificial nails, keeping your hands dry and bacteria free is important. Clip your toenails and practice foot care all year long.


Nail fungus is very common in diabetics. If you have diabetes or are a caregiver to someone with this condition, carefully monitor the condition of hands and feet. Diabetics are three times more likely to contract nail fungus. If you have poor circulation, this can also contribute to contracting nail fungus.