With summer nearly here, more attention will be focused on feet to get people up and going. Healthy feet—without disease or infection—are a must for a more balanced and centered lifestyle. The most common infection of the feet is toenail fungus. Fungus can infiltrate the nail, leaving it brittle, chalky, thick, sometimes painful and discolored. This infection is most often caused by moisture trapped in a warm, dark place such as the feet—especially when in shoes. The infection can spread and cause adjacent healthy toenails to be affected. The nail plate may completely lift and fall off. The toes themselves are not at risk for amputation and the infection does not spread into the blood, tendon, bones or muscles. Still considered a diseased state, it is unsightly and can be uncomfortable in shoes.

Treatments can vary, depending on the severity of the infection. Mild to moderate infections can be treated with topical antifungal medications (both over-the-counter and prescription). More severe infections are harder to treat; they can be treated with oral antifungals (which need close monitoring of the liver with serial blood tests) and laser therapy (a costly procedure not covered by insurance). Both are not guaranteed for 100 percent efficacy (effectiveness is estimated to be closer to 70 percent) and there is a possibility of re-infection.

There are natural avenues to treat mild to moderate infections. These include tea tree oil, white vinegar, coconut oil and orange oil. The oils can be purchased at your local health food store or even online. These topical agents can be applied to the toenail once a day with a cotton applicator. Even Vick’s Vapor Rub and Listerine have been known to help improve the appearance of the nail by making it less thick, chalky and discolored. Make sure to trim the affected toenail as much as possible (without peeling the nail back) before application. Also, even keeping the nail short and thin (with an emory board) can help.

Sathiya Eswarathasan, a doctor of podiatric medicine, treats conditions of the foot and ankle and is specialized and board certified in foot surgery. She practices with Dr. Mevelyn Michelle Morse based in both Branford and East Haven.