Fungal nail infection 

Introduction 

Who gets fungal nail infections?

Fungal nail infections mainly affect older adults. They are rare in children.

People with certain health conditions have an increased risk of developing a fungal nail infection. These include:

  • fungal skin infections, such as athlete's foot
  • psoriasis, a skin condition that causes red, flaky and crusty patches of skin covered with silvery scales
  • diabetes
  • peripheral vascular disease

Nail infections are also more common in people with lowered immune systems.

Read more about who's at risk of developing a fungal nail infection.

A fungal nail infection affects the hard material (keratin) that makes up the nails.

Fungal nail infections can affect part or all of the nail, including the nail plate, nail bed and root of the nail.

The infection develops slowly and causes the nail to become discoloured, thickened and distorted. The toenails are more frequently affected than the fingernails.

Onychomycosis is the medical name for a fungal nail infection.

Read more about other nail abnormalities.

Signs and symptoms of a fungal nail infection

The most common sign of a fungal nail infection is the nail becoming thickened and discoloured. The nail can turn white, black, yellow or green.

You'll not usually feel any pain at first, but the nail can look ugly. In most cases, a fungal nail infection won't cause any further complications. However, it may cause pain and discomfort if the infection isn't treated, although this is rare.

Read more about the signs and symptoms of a fungal nail infection.

What causes a fungal nail infection?

Most fungal nail infections are caused by dermatophyte fungi, which also cause athlete's foot.

Athlete's foot is a fungal skin infection that affects the skin between the toes. It can easily spread to the toenails.

Ocassionally, a nail infection can be caused by other types of fungi, such as Candida (a yeast that causes infections such as vaginal thrush).

Several factors increase the risk of a fungal nail infection developing. For example:

  • wearing shoes that cause your feet to get hot and sweaty
  • being in a humid environment
  • regular damage to the nail or skin
  • poor health or certain health conditions, such as diabetes or psoriasis

Read more about the causes of a fungal nail infection.

Treating a fungal nail infection

Treatment isn't always needed for mild fungal nail infections. Your GP may send a clipping of your nail for laboratory testing to discover the exact cause of the infection and rule out other conditions. They'll then discuss appropriate treatments with you.

Fungal nail infections can be treated and usually cured, but some treatments can take several months to work. Antifungal medicines include antifungal tablets and nail paint.

Antifungal tablets are usually effective, but they may cause side effects. You should discuss this with your GP before deciding which treatment to use.

Surgery to remove the nail may be recommended in very severe or painful cases. Laser treatment, where a high energy laser is used to destroy the fungus, is also an option. However, this is expensive and is only available privately.

During and after treatment it's important to look after your nails properly and practise good foot hygiene to stop the infection returning.

Read more about treating a fungal nail infection.

Page last reviewed: 10/01/2014

Next review due: 10/01/2016

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Comments

The 7 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

margarethe said on 13 October 2014

I tried all the over the counter treatments for my nails with no effect. Then from looking at these pages I tried a tea tree cream which I rubbed in daily onto cleaned feet. I also disinfect all my socks before treatment. After only a few weeks my symptoms had improved and have now almost gone. they also sell a tea tree liquid which may work. Hope this helps

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dawnee108 said on 28 June 2014

Years ago I had fungal nail infection and my doctor prescribed eye drops! I had to put two drops down behind the nail and it worked amazingly!! I have been back to the doctors as it recurred but they gave me the nail varnish stuff which doesn't work for me. Does anyone know what drops these could have been. I have been trying to remember

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st just said on 12 May 2014

hi peple as enyone got eny updates on using vicks rub on feet I have been using it for over amonth now and seeing a big improvement

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Emily465 said on 01 December 2013

Hey thanks a lot for this article. Several years I suffered from nail fungus until my doc gave me the simplest tip he had: Just put cedarsoles made from cedarwood in all the shoes. Because the cedar is the most antifungal tree in nature it also works in relation to nail fungus.

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SpiffyRicky523 said on 15 February 2013

A good way to make sure your toenail fungus doesn't return is by treating it properly the first time around. You can search the web and find several topical treatments; all of which who claim they are the best treatment available, but the most logical one, (not to mention the coolest), is the laser treatment. The statistics I read about it are amazing, and seem definitely worth looking into.

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kenneth james said on 08 June 2012

excellent advice!

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SamWoerth said on 01 October 2010

Essential that if you suspect a problem with your nails, feet or fingers - Get your GP involved fast.
Two reasons, firstly the longer the infection is in place, the treatment time escalate. Secondly it can take up to six weeks for laboratory culture tests to be completed. In this writer's case, the first lot were negative. another sets of nail clippings were then dispatched, meantime the situation with my thumbs had worsened dramatically over a ten week period.
Now, at last being treated with a nail lacquer -
Trosyl - the active ingredient Tioconazole - is used for Vaginal growth infections. Presumably not painted on as a nail varnish! I am a keen gardener of 55 years and that is where I think it has come from. Mycorrhizal -the friendly fungi (plants), though as yet we cannot prove it. However the laboratory could not know the specific growth yeast involved with my thumbs.. Normally they do!
Perhaps I get one named after me -'SamusWoertham'
SamWoe

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