D ie pool season has begun, shower and sauna areas remain but this year largely closed. Will this reduce the number of foot and nail fungus infections? Unfortunately not necessarily. Because nail fungus has many causes, not just walking barefoot in public showers.

Onychomycosis, the technical term for the often underestimated infection, often affects those affected for a long time. The nail becomes discolored, cracked, brittle and may flake off. The infection is extremely difficult to cure. However, recovery is possible, says Dr. Ute Siemann-Harms, Senior Physician in the Clinic and Polyclinic for Dermatology at the University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf (UKE).

How does nail fungus develop?

Around 14 million people in Germany are affected by nail fungus. A damp environment increases the risk of infection. Sources of danger: walking barefoot in gyms, in the sauna and in the public shower. But sweat in the feet in non-breathable shoes and synthetic socks can also cause nail fungus. The disease usually begins with a slight discoloration of the toenail or fingernail, which is barely visible. The expert warns that a fungal nail infection is often preceded by athlete’s foot, especially if it has not been treated or has only been inadequately treated.

As with athlete’s foot, infection occurs via smear or contact infection, either from person to person or through objects that have not been disinfected. The risk group also includes athletes. Some patients cultivate their nail fungus for decades, the spores are sometimes contagious for months. Often a small crack is enough if the surrounding skin is infected or injured to make it easier for the pathogens (especially thread fungi) to penetrate. If only parts of individual nails are affected and the nail root is not yet infected, experts often recommend external treatment.

What home remedies and insider tips against nail fungus are there?

Before you buy expensive creams and varnishes, there are also 4 unusual ways to defeat nail fungus:

1. Rub the toenails with Wick VapoRub

Home remedies like Wick VapoRub can help against nail fungus, claims Joe Graedon, pharmacologist at the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy and author of “Best Choices From the People’s Pharmacy” (2007), a book about the possibilities of the natural medicine cabinet. Because real drugs can have unpleasant side effects, especially if you take different ones at the same time. Wick VapoRub frees your toenails as well as your nose. The cold ointment is made from various oils and plants and contains, among other things, the antifungal ingredients camphor and eucalyptus. Wick VapoRub is therefore a “safe and inexpensive alternative to treat nail fungus”, according to a  study by the US Air Forcefirmly. But: The ointment is not recommended for severely damaged nails because of its essential oils, as these can cause severe burning and contact allergies. 

Application:  Apply Wick VapoRub to the affected nail using the Q-Tip at least once a day. Incidentally, the “miracle cure” Wick VapoRub is also said to be effective against warts and as a heat therapy for muscle pain. Simply massage in and apply a heat pad for 15 minutes.

2. Treat nail fungus with mouthwash

Listerine mouthwash was invented in the United States in 1879 as a germicidal liquid for use in doctor’s offices. The herbal ingredients of the antiseptic – menthol, eucalyptol, thymol and methyl salicylate – have an antimicrobial effect and should also help against nail fungus. Some users recommend a 50/50 mix of Listerine and white vinegar. The extra acid makes it even more difficult for the nail fungus to survive.  

Application:A 50/50 foot bath made from Listerine and vinegar for 45 to 60 minutes every day. If you don’t want to buy liters of Listerine every week, you can also apply the gargle directly to the nail. A method that, however, requires more patience and concentration than taking a foot bath. Possible problem: The vinegar-Listerine foot bath also attacks the protective layer of the skin, i.e. the normal bacterial flora.

3. Bathe nails in tea

But not in any English Earl Gray, but in Pau d’Arco or Lapacho tea. It is obtained from the inner bark of the Pau d’Arco tree, which contains antifungal substances. In Central and South America, the indigenous people allegedly used the health-promoting effects of the brewed bark as a panacea against infections and parasites.

Application: Soak the feet twice a day for 20 minutes in an infusion made from 2 tea bags Lapacho.

4. Drizzle the toenails with tea tree oil

The essential oils and antibiotic effects of the Australian all-round talent are also said to help against nail fungus. The main component of the oil is the chemical compound terpinen-4-ol, which is also found in lavender oil. This is the active ingredient that is needed to fight fungus. Therefore, when buying, make sure that it is at least 30% included.

Application: A few drops on the nail and the transition to the cuticle 2 to 3 times a day and 1 to 2 times a week. To avoid skin irritation, you can also dilute the tea tree oil with a little water. Caution: Some people develop a contact allergy to tea tree oil. They often last for life, says our expert.

How to treat stubborn nail fungus

The stage of your yeast infection should determine your actions. If only the surface of the front part of the nail is affected, you can treat the infection yourself with nail tinctures and anti-fungal varnishes. However, if the entire nail is already over a large area (including the growth zone at the nail root) or if several toenails and fingernails are affected (plus skin or athlete’s foot occurs on other parts of the body), you should consult a doctor. In this case, it can be assumed that the infection has already advanced very far and is constantly re-infecting the growing healthy nail. Remedy: a combination therapy of external and internal treatment – nail polish and ointments for the external healing process and tablets for the internal fight against the fungus.

Medicines, creams, varnish & laser therapy against nail fungus

Your doctor will prescribe tablets for you if you have a large fungal infection. These should inhibit the growth of the fungi or kill them. Medicines have the advantage over varnishes that they can reach fungal spores everywhere, even in the small nail cavities. If you don’t feel like a lengthy treatment with home remedies, you should speak to your dermatologist. He will take a swab and grow a mushroom to find the most effective drug. The duration of treatment can, however, drag on (up to a year), knows Dr. Siemann-Harms.

The expert recommends a combination therapy consisting of a laser treatment and the use of creams and varnishes, such as Loceryl with the active ingredients Amorolfin or Ciclopolirox. This helps especially with stubborn nail fungus. The laser works via heat. At temperatures of over 50 degrees, the fungal spores could be killed directly on the infected nail and their reproduction inhibited. A maximum of 10 minutes of treatment time per session would be necessary for each nail. “Laser technology is still a very new therapy,” the expert points out. The study situation is still unclear. Because some fungal spores can also withstand great heat. Duration of therapy: about 2 to 4 months.

What are the symptoms of nail fungus?

Sometimes it is difficult to tell the difference between “just” brittle nails and a fungal infection. A nail fungus is often only discovered or taken seriously when several nails have already been affected. If you feel pain, the infection is usually at an advanced stage. The fungus often spreads from the nail bed over the nail plate and changes the structure of the nail in the process. The nail substance keratin is produced, which slowly dissolves and creates air-filled cavities. These show up as white stripes or spots. In addition, the affected nail area can thicken and first turn whitish, then yellow-brown-green. If you experience the following symptoms, you should definitely seek advice from a specialist:

Your nails:

  • lose their shine
  • change color from pink to white, yellowish, brown or even greenish
  • are spotty or streaked
  • become brittle and layers of nails separate
  • tear down
  • thicken on the nail plate
  • ignite on the nail bed
  • itch and / or pain
  • begin to smell

Tip: Don’t put off your visit to the doctor too long! The earlier an infection is identified and treated, the faster the healing process. 

What types of nail fungus are there?

The main pathogens of nail and athlete’s foot are predominantly filamentous fungi (dermatophytes). Fungal nail infections caused by mold or yeast are less common. The filamentous fungus Trichophyton rubrum is responsible for around 80% of all nail fungal infections. It influences our immune system in such a way that the body’s own defenses cannot fight the fungus on their own. This means that nail fungus cannot heal on its own and treatment is required.

The feet are generally affected by fungal infections more often than fingernails. This is due to the fact that toenails are subjected to greater stress in everyday life, due to tight footwear and the warm, humid climate in (wool) socks and shoes. In addition, an athlete’s foot often turns into a nail fungus. If the athlete’s foot is not completely healed, the pathogen can infect the skin around the nail and eventually the toenail as well.

There are 5 types of fungal nail infections:

  1. Distolateral subungual onychomycosis or DSO (onychomycosis = nail fungus): This occurs most frequently at 90%, begins at the front edge of a nail and then spreads towards the nail root. Usually affects toenails. If it is recognized early, external treatment, for example with antifungal nail polish and creams, is sufficient. If the infestation is advanced, a combination with medication is recommended.
  2. Proximal subungual onychomycosis (PSO) : occurs in less than 5% of cases. The fungal infection starts at the nail root, in the direction of the nail plate and finally reaches the nail tip.
  3. Leukonychia trichophytica (also called white superficial onychomycosis (WSO)) : The fungal pathogen Trichophyton interdigitale (part of the genus of filamentous fungi) penetrates the nail surface and discolors the nail whitish. The infection is treated purely externally.
  4. Total dystrophic onychomycosis (TDO): Here the entire nail is affected by fungus and discolored, and the nail can be completely destroyed. Usually treated with a combination of topical and drug therapy.
  5. Onychia et Paronychia candidosa (also called yeast onychomycosis) : Infection occurs via yeasts (of the genus Candida). First the nail wall becomes inflamed, then irregular structures appear in the nail plate and the nail turns green and brown.

How do you prevent nail fungus?

If you stick to these 5 simple tips, you can eliminate the worst risk factors and reduce the risk of infection:

  1. Keep your feet clean and dry them thoroughly after you shower.
  2. Always wear dry, breathable athletic shoes and socks. Change the latter daily. If you sweat heavily on your feet, you can use baby powder to soak up the moisture.
  3. Do not walk barefoot in public places.
  4. Wash clothes at over 60 degrees. Fungal spores only die at 60 degrees Celsius. Always wash and store your used items separately to avoid contamination. 
  5. Anyone who suffers from nail fungus should definitely treat their shoes with special anti-fungal sprays. The spores don’t just die off. Important: The shoes should also be treated during the treatment of the foot or nail fungus.


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