Toenail fungal infections are known as onychomycosis in medical terminology. These infections are particularly challenging to cure for two main reasons.
First, there are many different types of fungus that cause the malady, so choosing the most effective treatment can be elusive. Second, immune systems vary from person to person. The responses to a particular treatment will not be the same for everyone.
Natural home remedies have been added to the pharmaceutical options with some degree of success. Vicks VapoRub is a popular treatment that contains substances known for their anti-fungal qualities. But is this treatment really safe and effective?
Types Of Treatment Available For Fungal Toenail Infection
Three types of treatment are currently available. The first is surgical removal of the nail and the underlying fungus. This treatment is proven to be effective but can be expensive and painful.
The second is oral medication (pills or substances taken by mouth). Oral remedies are not always effective, and they carry the possible side effect of serious liver damage.
The third is topical medications and substances for treating toenail fungus. This is the least invasive treatment option and probably the safest. Some of these topical products have been found more effective than others, and they might work on different pathogens of fungus. Some people have found success with topical treatment applied consistently over time.
Some topical treatments are over-the-counter medications that can be applied to the affected toenail(s) after properly preparing the area by trimming, cleaning, soaking and drying the toenails and surrounding skin.
There are also several natural remedies that have enjoyed considerable success in treating cases of toenail fungus when administered faithfully. One of the most popular natural treatments is Vicks VapoRub.
Are Home Remedies Like Vicks Tested By Medical Research?
Pharmaceutical medications are routinely subjected to double-blind, placebo-controlled trials to prove their safety and degree of success before being approved for public use. These tests are not generally available for home remedies like Vicks Vaporub when used for conditions other than those set forth by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Testing on a smaller scale has offered some confirmation to the use of Vicks Vaporub for treating toenail fungus. In an article published in the Consumer Report Magazine in March 2006, researchers at Michigan State University learned that consistent treatment with Vicks Vaporub cleared the nail fungus in 32 out of 85 patients.
The downside was that the complete clearing required from 5 to 16 months to achieve. It is important to remember in this situation that nail fungus takes time to develop from a small discolored area to a full-blown infection.
Investing the time and effort with a product like Vicks Vaporub will show positive effects (in some people) very quickly, but reversing all the damage may take much more time.
An article in the Journal of the Association of Nurses in AIDS Care (Jan-Feb., 2016) described a study in which patients with AIDS (who have compromised immune systems) had their toenail fungus treated with Vicks Vaporub. The nurses rated the treatment as “Safe and effective”.
Studies have been performed on the effectiveness of certain ingredients in Vicks Vaporub in treating onychomycosis. An April 2003 article in the Phytotherapy Research publication confirmed the effectiveness of essential oils (in Vicks), camphor, thymol, menthol and eucalyptus oils, in treating five fungal species that cause onychomycosis.
Stages In Fungal Infections And Changes To Look For
Early Signs of a Fungal Toenail Infection
A dark discoloration or a small white line may be the first indications of a fungal infection of the nails. The surface of the nail may become rougher and the nail may take on a dull appearance. This is the ideal time to begin treatment to prevent spread to other nails or soft body tissues, as well as avoid the embarrassment of ugly, disfigured nails.
Changes in Nails with On-Going Fungal Infection
If not treated promptly, fungal nail infections will spread to the entire nail, causing progressive discoloration, often turning yellowish as the nail thickens and becomes disfigured. As the nail becomes thicker, chipping and breaking are common. Eventually, the nail may separate from the nail bed, creating a painful condition called onycholysis.
The above-described changes will render the toe/fingernail progressively more unhealthy looking and unattractive. Many people feel embarrassed and avoid wearing sandals or open-toed shoes, opting to keep their feet enclosed in socks and shoes when in public.
Since fungus grows best in dark, moist conditions, such limited time exposed to air can hasten the progress of the infection.
Possible Complications of Untreated Onychomycosis
Not only can nails be badly deformed or even lost due to neglected fungal infection, but the infection can also spread to other fingers, toes, or various body parts. The pathological infection can be spread to people in close contact with the infected person.
An untreated fungal infection may lead to a bacterial infection of the soft tissue surrounding the nails. The medical word for this is paronychia. Pain, swelling, redness, and warmth are symptoms of bacterial infection in the skin and tissue surrounding infected nails.
Untreated paronychia can lead to cellulitis, a painful condition that is difficult to cure. Strong antibiotics may be the only cure to cellulitis, and often they must be administered intravenously.
Why Are Natural Remedies Like Vicks Vaporub So Popular?
At the onset, a fungal toenail infection may not seem like a serious medical condition, and one may be tempted to postpone seeking medical advice. As the infection progresses and the toenail thickens and becomes discolored, treatment may take on a new importance.
Since our goal is to reach the best possible understanding of treatment options, let’s look at the choices in more detail.
- Terbinafine: This treatment is a pill that can be taken in a 12-week course. Sometimes a pulse course will be prescribed, meaning the patient takes Terbinafine for only one week out of each month. Pulse treatment, naturally, takes longer to show signs of improvement.
- Fluconazole, Itraconazole, and Ketoconazole: A course of any of these medications could be up to 18 months on the drug. Each of them works in basically the same way, but the individual results will vary.
- Griseofulvin: The dosage of this medication is two times a day until the infection has cleared up. If started after the infection has become severe and extensive damage is present, it may take as much as 18 months for the infection to be eradicated and the risk of re-infection to be minimalized.
It should be noted that patients being treated with oral prescription medications are at risk for side effects as mild as skin rashes or as serious as liver damage. Periodic blood tests may need to be done to assess for changes in liver function. Patients who suffer from congestive heart failure or liver disease, as well as those on specific medications, may not be prescribed oral medications.
Over-the-Counter Topical Medications
Multiple over-the-counter creams and ointments are available for treating fungal toenail infections. These products likely target the pathogen called Epidermophyton floccosum, which is a common culprit in athlete’s foot and jock itch (and fungal toenail infections).
One concern expressed with OTC topical medications is that they often clear up the surface infection, but do not get to the source. It becomes necessary to treat over and over again, at considerable cost to the patient.
Home Remedies for Fungal Toenail Infections
Many people have described success with treating fungal infections with natural ingredients such as white vinegar, cinnamon oil, and/or tea tree oil (or possibly some combination of essential oils).
Perhaps the most popular home remedy for fungal toenail infections is Vicks VapoRub. As with any home remedy, the key to success seems to be persistence. Twice daily treatment, morning and night, is necessary for continued success.
One advantage of self-treating with natural ingredients is the comparatively low cost. Vicks VapoRub may be the most economical treatment available for long-term usage in controlling fungal toenail infections.
But certainly, the cost is not the most important consideration. One attractive aspect of Vicks treatment is the absence of side effects and/or potentially dangerous complications.
After doing an extensive study of possible treatment options for fungal toenail infections, one may still have more questions than answers.
Consulting your physician is ALWAYS the best first step. Discuss your questions and concerns with your physician and be sure to provide an accurate, comprehensive medical history.
Remember that early intervention is more likely to be successful than it may be later in the infection process.
The bottom line is, the best treatment intervention is the one that works best for you. You can add a home remedy (Vicks) to whatever regimen your doctor prescribes, or try the home remedy before taking oral medications.
Be vigilant, be thorough. Good luck in treating your fungal toenail infection!