Fungal infection in toe nails

My infected toe nails

Naturally at this time of year most of us keep our feet covered. Shoes or boots on when outside (even frequent use of wellies with the current weather conditions) and maybe slipper socks or slippers on inside. When our feet are enclosed for long periods, moisture builds up and this creates a warm moist environment where fungi can thrive. With the mild wet weather we have had this winter and the almost constant high humidity, it would be no surprise if the incidence of fungal infections is higher this year. Three years ago I got a fungal infection in several toe nails. Faced with some limited options here’s what I did…

You know the saying “prevention is better than cure”, so ideally I should walk around in bare feet or open toed sandals or slippers. This keeps air circulating around your toes and the humidity of the air is usually not high enough to allow fungi to grow. It’s the same natural principle that restricts fungi to growing in certain conditions, as I described in my Autumn article. However, most of the time I keep my feet covered and that, combined with whatever factors, caused my toe nail infection.

Toe nail infection diagnosed

Before I got an official diagnosis, I’d guessed there was an ongoing infection. My toe nails turned opaque and yellow. Most of them had gone quite soft and one of the nails, the middle one in the picture, had started to crumble!

My GP confirmed it was a fungal infection by sending clippings from my toe nails for analysis. He offered a treatment of the antifungal drug terbinafine, that I would have to take for at least 6 months. As a precaution he recommended regular liver function tests when using terbinafine over a long period.

They say a little bit of knowledge can go a long way or be a dangerous thing. From my science background I know that our cell’s architecture is much more closely related to fungi than bacteria. So taking an oral dose of an antifungal has a much higher potential for being toxic than taking an antibiotic. An oral dose exposes most of your body to a drug when it is absorbed and circulated in the blood. Did I want to do this to my body?

Did I have any alternative though? It just so happened that my boss in the first company where I worked, which was during most of the 1980s, got into aromatherapy and I have known since then about the antimicrobial properties of Tea Tree Oil. I did some online research and saw that people have claimed to successfully use Tea Tree Oil for treating toe nail infections.

Tea Tree Oil as a treatment

Having considered my options I told my GP what I was going to do and walked directly from his practice to a local herbal shop.

Bottle of Tea Tree Oil

Tea Tree Oil form a local herbalist

Now that I had committed myself down this path it had to be 100% to give this self-imposed clinical trial the best chance of success. Every day, and I mean every single day, after a shower and thoroughly drying my toes, I put a drop or two of Tea Tree Oil on a finger and applied it to my toe nails on one foot. Then using another finger to stop cross-contamination, I applied another drop or two onto the nails of the other foot.

After 9 months my toe nails had hardened and a much healthier looking transparent pink nails had begun to appear at the base pushing forward the opaque, yellow dead nails. I kept up the treatment for another 3 months until I was sure that I had healthy growth in all my toe nails.

As maintenance now, I only apply Tea Tree Oil after I cut my nails on the assumption that cutting the nail might expose it to renewed infection.

Fungi and relative humidity

Fungi will only grow when exposed to humidity above a certain level as I explain in chapter 6 of my eBook A Wet Look At Climate Change. I see a potential product opportunity for a footwear insert that keeps the %RH around your feet below the critical point for growth of the species of fungi that causes toe nail infections and athlete’s foot. A “Moisture Eater” perhaps?

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