Nail fungus is an unsightly and at times painful infection that affects about 12 percent of Americans, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. Most fungus infections, which cause discoloration and abnormal nail growth, occur in toenails, but they can affect fingernails as well. Curing nail fungus can take several weeks or even months and requires discipline as well as possibly a doctor's assistance.
The Mayo Clinic touts vinegar and Vicks VapoRub as two of the top home remedy cures for nail fungus. Mix a solution that is one part vinegar and two parts warm water. Soak the infected foot or hand in the solution for 15 to 20 minutes daily, cutting back to a few times a week if the foot or hand becomes irritated. Applying Vicks VapoRub also can help eliminate fungus, although there is no consensus as to how often to apply it. Also consider a daily application of tea tree oil mixed, which has some anti-fungal properties. Mix it equally with olive oil before applying.
Over-the-counter creams and ointments have little effect on nail fungus, but doctors can prescribe oral medication to treat the condition. Oral medications including fluconazole, itraconazole and terbinafine will spur growth of a fungus-free nail, slowly forcing off the infected portion of the nail. Dosage usually lasts six to 12 weeks, and full recovery may take four months or longer. Oral medications can cause side effects including rashes and liver damage, so use them under a doctor's care only.
Doctors also can prescribe topical creams and urea-containing lotions to treat nail fungus. While these rarely cure nail fungus on their own, they can assist in treatment provided by oral medications. Another option is a prescription anti-fungal lacquer, a clear polish layered on the nail daily for a week. After a week's application, you wipe the nail clean and start the layering process again. This is most effective in mild fungus infections.
With severe infections, doctors can completely remove the infected nail, allowing a new nail to grow in its place. Nail regeneration can take as long as a year.
The most important element in treatment is preventing the fungus infection from recurring or spreading. Keep your feet dry by wearing natural cotton socks, wear sandals or swimming shoes at pools or locker rooms and wash your feet and hands well after visiting such places. Don't use a cloth towel when drying the infected nail. Use a paper towel that you can throw away immediately, or, if you do use a cloth towel, wash it immediately after drying the infected area. Wear breathable shoes, and keep infected nails well-filed and free of polish.