The most common cause of thick white stuff under toenails is a fungal infection. Nail fungus affects approximately 10% of the population and that jumps to 20% for those over 60 and a staggering 50% for people 70 and over.
In this article, we are going to take a look at nail fungus, the most common cause of thick white build-up under toenails. We’ll discuss what it is, how you get it, and how to treat it.
What is Nail Fungus?
Nail fungus is a fungal infection in the nail, also known as onychomycosis. Fungi and bacteria are present in the body and on the skin. This is normal.
But when fungi begin to overpopulate, that’s when you can get an infection.
Beginning as a white or yellow spot under the tip of the nail, as the fungal infection spreads and goes deeper into the nail, it causes the nail to thicken and become opaque, causing a white or sometimes yellow buildup under the nail.
You may be tempted to paint the toenail or otherwise hide it. But that’s not a good idea. Best to treat it before it gets worse!
Thick White Stuff Under Toenails
That thick white (or sometimes yellowish) stuff is a buildup of keratin and is most often a result of nail fungus.
However, it’s important to note that although nail fungus is a far more common cause, if you have psoriasis, it may not be fungus, but your psoriasis spreading to your nails.
If you have psoriasis, the only way to really know whether your affected toenails are a result of a fungal infection or psoriasis spreading to your nails is to see a dermatologist.
How Do You Get Nail fungus?
Fungi thrive in warm, moist environments. It’s no surprise that fungal infections most often occur in places on your body that tend to be warm and moist for extended periods of time. Places like between your warm toes, wrapped in insulating socks and shoes, or in your crotch area along the fold where your leg meets your body.
Places that often rarely see the light of day and cleansing UV rays.
Nail fungus, Athlete’s foot, Jock itch, and ringworm (don’t let the name scare you – ringworm has nothing to do with worms) are all generally classified as tinea.
Nail fungus (tinea unguium) is a fungal infection in the nails, Athlete’s foot (tinea pedis) is tinea on your feet, jock itch (tinea cruris) happens in the crotch area and ringworm (tinea corporis) can occur anywhere on your body, but some of the most common places are on the scalp and under the breasts.
Why are we talking about Athlete’s foot, jock itch, and ringworm when you want to know about thick white stuff under your toenails?
There’s a very good reason! They are all the same classification of fungal infection and an infection on one part of your body can spread to another part.
All fungal infections are contagious.
It’s thought that one of the most common causes of jock itch is due to athlete’s foot spreading from your feet to crotch simply by putting on underwear, where the fungus hitches a ride up and settles into an equally warm, moist environment where it takes hold.
Nail fungus is often contracted from the spread of athlete’s foot to the toenails.
An existing fungal infection spreading from somewhere else on the body is not the only way someone can get nail fungus. Remember, fungal infections are highly contagious.
It’s unlikely you will ever be rubbing nails together with another person. But you are more likely to contract another type of fungal infection, like athlete’s foot in the gym shower, or jock itch from using someone else’s towel. Then that infection spreads to your feet, then your nails.
There is one place that is primarily responsible for nail-to-nail fungal infections – the nail salon.
If the equipment the nail technician is using on your nails has not been properly sterilized, she could be spreading someone else’s nail fungus to your nails.
Small cracks or cuts in your nail or the surrounding tissue are another way nail fungus can develop. These cracks and cuts can allow molds and yeast (both a type of fungus) to flourish, then take over the nail.
What Happens if You Leave Toenail Fungus Untreated?
All fungal infections are contagious and can spread quickly. Nail fungus can not only be contracted from an existing fungal infection from another part of your body, but nail fungus can also spread and create a fungal infection to another part of your body.
That’s to say, not only could Athlete’s foot cause a toenail infection, your toenail infection can cause athlete’s foot… which could then be potentially spread to jock itch while putting on underwear that brushed up against your fungaly toes and carried the highly contagious infection to your crotch via the underwear express.
It works both ways.
Not only is it important to treat nail fungus so it doesn’t spread elsewhere, it’s important to treat any other fungal infections you may have to avoid the risk of infecting your nails or re-infecting your nails, after treating your nail fungus.
How do you get rid of buildup under your toenails?
That thick white stuff under your toenails is a buildup of keratin caused by a fungal infection. In order to remedy the problem, you have to treat the cause, not the symptom.
Whereas the other types of fungal infections are relatively easy to treat with a topical antifungal, toenail fungus is much more difficult.
What makes nail fungus harder to treat is that it’s extremely difficult to get any type of topical medication to penetrate the nail. That, and the nail plate is very slow-growing, so treatment takes a lot longer.
Now there are a lot of home remedies out there. Some of them have lots of supporting anecdotal endorsements from people who swear it’s worked for them, and also lots who report it made no difference.
It’s important to note that there is no scientific evidence to support any of these home remedies as a cure for toenail fungus. But there really is no harm if you want to give one of the home remedies a try.
Most of the home remedies are made with things you might find in your pantry or medicine cabinet, like [amazon_link=”B074JDMMNL” “link_text=”apple cider vinegar” link_icon=”amazon” /] or [amazon_link=”B0186Y85Y4″ “link_text=”Vicks Vaporub” link_icon=”amazon” /].
But please just use some common sense if you are thinking about using a home remedy. There are people out there endorsing the use of bleach to treat toenail fungus, for example.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that you should not be using a toxic cleaning agent to treat anything on or in your body!
Over-the-Counter Topical Antifungals
Topical antifungals are another option to try. There are antifungals that market themselves specifically as a nail fungus treatment (such as Kerasal, which we reviewed).
But none of the over-the-counter antifungals have been FDA approved as a treatment for nail fungus. They all have written (in very small letters) somewhere on their labels and/or in the package insert – not for nail fungus.
Like the home remedies, there are mixed reviews as to their effectiveness to treat nail fungus.
Unlike most of home remedies, which are relatively non-invasive and have no detrimental side effects, if you are going to try an OTC nail fungus treatment, make sure you read product reviews.
Different products have different active ingredients, some of which are much stronger than those found in home remedies. There are several reviews out there from people who suffered allergic reactions and reported a worsening of the condition after having used an OTC nail fungus treatment.
On the flip side, there are also reviews from people who have said it had worked for them.
The good news is that there are nail fungus treatments that are FDA approved, clinically tested and scientifically proven to be effective. However, these are only available by prescription.
Whether it be a podiatrist or a dermatologist, he or she will check your condition and prescribe either a topical or oral treatment or in some cases both.
Which treatment should I be using?
So whereas there is no harm in trying a home remedy to see if it works, there could be a possibility that you suffer some negative side effects from an OTC nail fungus treatment.
Just understand that if you go the route of trying to self-treat, whether it be with a home remedy or an OTC antifungal, it is a long process of diligent use that may or may not work for you.
On the other hand, if you don’t want to be waiting anywhere from 6 weeks to 12 months to find out something that’s never been clinically proven to actually work on nail fungus didn’t work for you, and you just want to get rid of your nail fungus, go see a medical doctor to get an effective treatment plan. This is your best chance of successfully taking care of the problem.