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Toenail fungus (Onychomycosis)


This unpleasant infection is closely related to ‘athlete’s foot’ an is often caused by the same fungal skin parasites. The infection cannot be controlled by the immune system as it is essentially external to the body, and active treatment is essential.


The main symptoms are yellowing, thickening and distortion of the nail and the accumulation of hard white or yellow deposits under the nail, which can sometimes raise the nail quite considerably from the nail bed. There is normally no pain or discomfort to warn of the condition.

Infection normally occurs at the outer edge then creeps slowly towards the cuticle. If left untreated, loss of the nail will result.


There are several medications available both over the counter or through prescription. As well as topical ointments containing fungicides such as clotrimazole, these may include systemic treatments such a griseofulvin, an antibiotic. Over the counter topical treatments are generally not very effective because they only very slowly pass through the nail to the infected tissues, and treatment can take many months. Systemic treatments may have side effects, and also takes a great deal of time to work. Because of the long exposure times for internal treatment, the side effects of internal medications are likely to be far worse than the fungus. They include headaches, nausea, rashes and even blood disorders and liver damage.

Alternative treatment

There is at least one natural treatment that is at least as effective as conventional medications. This is tea tree oil. This is widely obtainable from health shops or online. In this case you will need to use it ‘neat’ rather than mixed in with a carrier such as a lanolin cream, as suggested for athlete’s foot. However, as for the commercial medications, it will not usually penetrate the nail to get at the fungal cells beneath, unless the nail is first filed very thin to allow penetration (this can be done in the case of cuticle infection, as the only way to make the treatment effective in this case).

So firstly you will need to check that your skin is not going to react to neat oil: over the course of a couple of days, rub a small sample of oil onto the skin on the inside of the forearm, using the same spot on each occasion. If there is no noticeable reaction, proceed to the treatment.

You will need a small syringe and a blunted needle. These are easy to find in inkjet refilling kits, Load the syringe with about 0.25 ml of tea tree oil and gently work the blunted needle under the nail until it is within a centimeter or less of the edge of the infection. This will not hurt if done carefully, as the gap between the nail and nail bed will be filled with fungal matter. With the needle in position, simply inject the oil under the nail. You will clearly see the oil spreading to saturate all of the infected area. After use, pull the plunger from the syringe and wipe the neoprene plunger head free of oil (tea tree oil will cause the rubber to swell, making the syringe useless if oil is left in it). Repeat the procedure weekly until it becomes clear that the infection has stopped and new nail growth is visible, then drop to monthly treatment. In many cases, just a single treatment may be all that is necessary, but it is best to err on the side of caution.

Some people have also reported that oregano oil, garlic oil, cinnamon oil or myrhh oil can also be used in this way, and may be used instead if you find that you react to tea tree oil.

Prevention of recurrance

Toenail fungal infections have a tendency to re-occur. You can do much to prevent re-infection by practicing good foot hygiene. Washing the feet daily with tea tree oil soap and water; drying carefully. Changing shoes and socks regularly to decrease moisture and help prevent the fungus from re-infecting the nails. Tea tree oil or preparations containing it can be applied topically as a further precautionary measure.



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