How to Treat a Nail Infection

Treating Nail Infections

Different types of nail infections call for different treatments, and some infections are easier to treat than others.

Fungal nail infections, including yeast infections, can be stubborn and often recur even with treatment. If you suspect that you have a fungal nail infection, see your doctor. Over-the-counter remedies are inadequate for fighting fungal infections, and you don't want to waste time while the infection worsens.

A doctor can treat infected nails in several different ways. One method is to prescribe an oral antifungal medicine, such as terbinafine or itraconazole -- these medicines help a new fungus-free nail grow. If your doctor prescribes an oral medicine, you'll need to take it for six to 12 weeks, and you probably won't have a completely clean, healthy nail for at least four months. Antifungal medications can also cause side effects, including rashes and liver damage [sources: Harvey, Mayo Clinic].

For mild infections, your doctor may prescribe ciclopirox, an antifungal nail polish that you paint on daily for a week. After a week, you wipe the nail clean with alcohol and start again, repeating the weekly applications 52 times. This treatment requires you to apply the medicated polish every week for a year, and the nail polish isn't guaranteed to clear up the infection. A doctor may also recommend applying over-the-counter creams that contain urea, or he or she may file down the nail, which is known as debridement, to increase healing time [source: Mayo Clinic].

Finally, for severe or particularly painful infections, your doctor may suggest removing the infected nail entirely. The surgery is quick and simple, but you may have to wait as long as a year for the new nail to grow [source: Mayo Clinic].

Bacterial infections, such as paronychia and pseudomonas, require different treatment. People with bacterial infections can alleviate pain and swelling by soaking their hands or feet in warm water three to four times a day. Your doctor may prescribe an oral or topical antibiotic, depending on the cause of the infection. Some forms of paronychia may result from fungal infections, meaning the doctor will probably prescribe an antifungal medical as described above [source: American Academy of Family Physicians].

For more information on treating nail infections, see the links on the following page.

Related HowStuffWorks Articles


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