All you need to know about fungal nail infections

Fungal infection of the nails is a common condition worldwide. It can be diagnosed by your GP. These fungal infections are also known as onychomycosis or tinea unguium.

Signs

At first you may just see a spot of discolouration (whitish to yellow-brown) at the tip of your nail, and without treatment it will eventually spread. The affected nail can become thickened, splits and crumbles. If left untreated the infection can destroy the nail and the nail bed and sometimes the whole nail can come away. The skin next to the nail maybe red, swollen and scaly. This is more common in people who are involved in wet work such as cleaners.

Symptoms

Initially the infection is painless and people put off treating it. However, the infected nail becomes thickened it hurts when wearing shoes and the nails are difficult to trim. The affected nail may cut the skin surrounding it and can prove difficult when putting on socks or tights.

Risks

  • If you have a fungal skin infection such as athlete’s foot (fungal skin infection between the toes), and this goes untreated it may spread to the toenails resulting in a fungal nail infection.
  • If you have a nail that is already damaged, it is much easier for a fungus to invade.
  • Fungal infections of the fingernails are less common, however they can occur if your toenail infection has become established, and if you scratch your itchy toes and toenail, you can spread the fungus to your fingernail.
  • It can develop in people at any age, but its more common in older adults because as the nail ages it becomes dry, brittle and cracks, which allows the fungus to enter the nail.
  • Having a minor skin or nail injury or a skin condition such as Psoriasis.
  • Having Diabetes, circulation problems or a weakened immune system.
  • Your chance of getting a fungal nail infection increases if you have wet hands and feet repeatedly throughout the day, walk barefoot in hot humid places such as swimming pools and public shower rooms and wear plastic gloves for long periods every day.

Topical Treatment

If you have a mild infection or the infection is in the early stages, over the counter products in the form of nail lacquers, varnish, ointments, creams can be used. Follow manufacturer’s advice on application, some applications are daily and others are weekly. Fingernails typically grow out in 4-6 months. Toenails take longer usually 12-18 months. It will also help if you regularly remove abnormal nail material with a clippers and filing for better results. Dedication is key!

Self-care

  • Keep your nails cut short and file down any thickened nail.
  • Use a separate pair of scissors/clippers to cut infected nail to prevent contaminating the other nails. Do not share nail scissors or clippers with others.
  • As well as treat your fungal nail, use an antifungal cream to treat the skin that has athlete’s foot as well.
  • If you have a toenail fungal infection, wear well-fitting shoes that are made of leather, canvas or mesh. Keep your feet clean and dry. Sanitize your nail clipper/scissors before using it and keep your nails short by cutting your toenails straight across.
  • Wear flip flops when walking in areas such as swimming pools, public showers, spas and locker rooms.
  • Do not share your nail polish with family members or friends, and if you visit a nail salon bring your own nail polish and flip flops.

If you think you have a fungal nail infection, consult with your GP, who may sometimes take a nail clipping sample which may be sent to the laboratory for testing. If you have not responded to topical treatment, your Doctor may prescribe tablets.


If you need guidance about fungal nail infections or another skin infection or disorder, contact the ISF Helpline for free assistance and information.

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