Home remedies for nail fungus, or onychomycosis, abound, but unfortunately none of them actually work. To really treat fungus, you have to take a trip to your doctor. Fungus—characterized by discolored, thick and brittle nails—is a common condition caused by an infection in the nail bed.

The most effective treatments are oral antifungal medications like itraconazole (Sporanox) and terbinafine (Lamisil), which are available by prescription and taken daily for three months. These medications work by killing the fungus at the nail root.

People who have liver problems or congestive heart failure shouldn't take oral antifungal medications. In this case, your doctor may recommend ciclopirox (Penlac), a prescription antifungal topical lacquer that you use like nail polish. It's sometimes used for people whose fungus is caught early and hasn't spread to the entire nail. However, topical therapy isn't as effective as oral medication and probably won’t get rid of fungus for good.

After the oral drug regimen, the toenail cuticle should look clear, but it could take up to a year for the entire nail to be fungus free. Unfortunately, some people are never cured. If this is the case, you may have to just manage the fungal nail.

Regular visits to the podiatrist to cut and file down the nail will prevent it from irritating your foot. You may also consider having the nail removed.

Typically, toenail fungus is more of a nuisance than a health problem. But this doesn't mean you can ignore it: Left untreated, fungus can spread to your fingernails and skin. And if you have diabetes or a circulatory disorder, you need to be more vigilant in treating the fungus—a thick, long toenail could cut your foot, which can lead to an ulcer or skin infection.

Source: Prepared by the Editors of The Johns Hopkins Medical Letter: Health After 50

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at Healthcommunities.com

Published: 18 Jul 2013

Last Modified: 28 Sep 2015