Toenail fungus (onychomycosis) is a long-term problem for roughly 15 percent of the U.S. population, according to an October 2009 New York Times report. Brittle, yellow, jagged toenails are doubtless unattractive; however, this condition, which usually results from a microscopic class of fungi called dermatophytes, doesn't pose a potential threat to your health, unless you're elderly or diabetic. Toenail fungus can prove extremely difficult to treat using conventional medications, which have a very low rate of success. Some oral medications can even cause unpleasant side-effects such as liver damage. There are some home remedies which may make your toenail grow back without this unsightly fungus, if you use them diligently and appropriately.
Apply Vicks VapoRub to the affected toenail. The New York Times article states that thymol, which is found in oil of thyme, an active ingredient in Vicks that has antiseptic properties. Dr. Andrew Weil also mentions Vicks as a possible home remedy for nail fungus and advises rubbing it into the nail twice a day. Weil goes onto state that your success rate using this technique may vary; anecdotally, some people have stated that it took mere days to notice an improvement, while others indicated that it took between four to six months.
Paint tea tree oil or grapefruit seed extract onto the infected toenail. This is the treatment for toenail fungus that Weil personally recommends. Treat the toenail twice a day. Weil cautions that it may take up to a year for this home remedy to work, as your toenail has to grow out entirely fungus-free.
Use a vinegar soak. This home remedy to treat toenail fungus is recommended by Mayo Clinic experts, who note that vinegar may prevent bacterial growth. Mix 2 parts warm water to 1 part vinegar and place the affected foot in the solution for 15 to 20 minutes each day. If your skin becomes irritated, cut back on the frequency of foot soaks or dilute the mixture with more water.
Prevent reinfection. Keep your toenails clean and dry as much as possible. Trim the toenail straight across and file down thick areas, advises Mayo Clinic experts. Wear shoes or sandals whenever you're in a damp, public place, such as a swimming pool or locker room. Choose synthetic socks over those made of wool or cotton. You may also want to use a nonprescription antifungal power or spray on your feet and inside of your shoes.
In lieu of oral medications, a doctor may suggest a prescription antifungal nail lacquer called ciclopirox, which is applied to the affected toenail and surrounding skin once a week. Some nail infections go away after a year of this treatment.
Toenail fungus can cause medical complications for those with diabetes or suppressed immune systems due to leukemia, AIDS or a recent organ transplant. The Mayo Clinic stresses the importance of seeing a doctor if you fall in one of these categories and think you might have a toenail infection.