Signs that your toenail fungus is dying include reduced discoloration, the nail texture returning to normal, and fresh, healthy nail growth.

Toenail fungus (onychomycosis) infections are typically harmless, but they can take time to treat. If you don’t use an antifungal treatment or another remedy, the fungus may worsen, causing the nail to eventually fall off. The infection may also start to affect other nails or spread to another person.

To prevent this, it’s a good idea to be proactive about treatment. Antifungal creams, pills, and at-home remedies like tea tree oil may help kill the fungus. Here’s what to know about the healing stages.

Keep in mind that since some level of fungus is present on everyone’s body, it only becomes a reason for concern when it turns into an infection. At this stage, the fungus is visible.

Signs that your toenail fungus is dying include the following:

  • Yellow, brownish, or white streaks on the nails begin to fade.
  • A crumbly or thickened nail texture slowly improves.
  • Discolored or fragile sections of the nail begin to be replaced by healthy nail growth.

Eventually, new growth will replace the infected nail. According to a 2017 review, it should take about 12–18 months for the new growth to totally replace the damaged toenail.

According to the United Kingdom’s National Health Service, as soon as there’s healthy nail growth at the base of the nail, it’s considered clinically cured.

Doctors typically recommend sticking to over-the-counter (OTC) treatments if:

  • The fungus is affecting less than half of the nail.
  • It isn’t affecting the base of the nail.
  • It’s only affecting some of the nails.

There are also many home remedies for nail fungus, such as:

Although there’s limited clinical evidence that these methods are effective, they typically won’t cause any harm. For that reason, they may be worth a try.

Some other common OTC options include nail softening cream sets and antifungal nail polishes.

Nail softening cream sets

There are treatment sets that contain creams to soften the nail and kill the fungus as well as a spatula to scrape the fungus off. One cream contains urea, which softens the nail. The other cream contains the antifungal bifonazole.

You must leave the cream on overnight with a bandage, apply it again the next day, and scrape it off with the spatula provided. You’ll typically need to repeat the treatment for 2 weeks.

According to some limited evidence, the treatment was effective in 51 out of 100 participants.

Antifungal nail polishes

There are OTC clear nail polishes that contain antifungal ingredients like amorolfine or ciclopirox. You’ll usually need to apply these once or twice a week, but always follow the instructions on your specific product.

That said, researchers found that this treatment with ciclopirox polish was only effective at killing the fungus in 22 out of 100 people. Keep in mind that in control studies, about 7–17% of people who didn’t receive any treatment for their nail fungus had the issue resolved within a year.

If your OTC toenail fungus treatment doesn’t work, contacting a doctor for a formal diagnosis is the next step. First, the doctor will test to determine what type of fungus is affecting the nail.

Then, prescription treatments include:

  • Oral antifungal tablets: Doctors often prescribe tablets like terbinafine and itraconazole to kill the fungus. You’ll typically need to take these over a period of several weeks. About 76% of people who took terbinafine in one study no longer had a fungal infection after 3 months.
  • Laser treatment: Although there’s not much research on the use of lasers to kill nail fungus, some dermatologists may recommend it when other methods don’t work.

Although they’re much more effective than OTC options, oral antifungal medications may come with side effects, including:

Because they can also interact with a number of medications, such as those for lowering blood sugar, it’s best to talk with your doctor about anything you may be taking.

Don’t use oral antifungals if you’re pregnant or nursing. Children can’t take antifungal medication.

You can tell that your nail fungus is dying when the discoloration begins to fade, the texture returns to normal, and there’s new, healthy nail growth.

Although fungus may sometimes clear up on its own, OTC treatments like antifungal polishes and nail softening creams can help. However, prescription antifungal tablets tend to be much more effective.

If your fungus is worsening, painful, or spreading, it’s best to contact a doctor for the next steps.