Fungal Nails

What is a fungal nail infection?

A fungal nail infection is a relatively common condition that many people will experience at some point during their lives. Fungal nails aren’t serious, but they can take a while to cure as toenail fungus treatments work slowly to eradicate the infection. You can get fungal nail infections on your fingernails as well, but this is less common.

What are the signs and symptoms of a fungal nail infection?

  • Discolouration of the nail, such as white, yellow, black or green
  • The nail becoming brittle or thickened – the nail may gradually change shape, texture and thickness (thick nails can also be the result of trauma, e.g., dropping a heavy object on the nail, or repetitive microtraumas over many years e.g., from ill-fitting footwear).
  • Discomfort – this may only occur if the nail is thick or distorted. In some cases, fungal nails can become uncomfortable and potentially even painful.

Fungal nails treatment and prevention

Most fungal nail infections won’t resolve without treatment, but it’s not always necessary to do anything about them. If the nail isn’t painful and you’re not bothered by the physical appearance of it, you may choose not to treat the condition. 

If this is the case, or if you don’t have a fungal nail but would like to reduce the likelihood of getting one, the following steps can help to prevent the infection developing.

Do ✓

  • Practise good foot hygiene and keep your feet clean and dry.
  • Change your socks every day.
  • Wear socks and shoes that are breathable.
  • Wear flip flops or slippers instead of going barefoot whenever possible.
  • Treat athlete’s foot early to prevent the fungal infection from spreading into the nails.
  • Throw out old shoes in favour of newer, more supportive footwear.

Don’t X

  • Do not walk barefoot in communal pools, changing rooms or showers – this is a common way to pick up a fungal infection from other people who have walked barefoot on those floors before you.
  • Do not share socks, shoes or towels with other people – this applies whether you know they have a foot condition or not.
  • Do not touch other people’s fungal nails, athlete’s foot or other infectious areas.
  • Do not wear damp socks or shoes any longer than you have to. Instead, dry your feet thoroughly as soon as possible and put on clean, dry socks and shoes. 
  • Do not wear shoes or socks that make your feet feel damp or sweaty.
  • Do not share nail scissors, files or other nail care instruments with other people. This includes the brushes used with nail varnish.


If you decide you would like to treat your fungal nail, it’s important to be aware that treatments aren’t always effective. They can also take a long time to work when they are effective, meaning you aren’t likely to see quick fix results.

Here are some of the options for treating fungal nails:

  • Antifungal medication: This comes as a topical paint that you can apply directly to the nail or as tablets. You can purchase topical antifungal treatment over the counter. Antifungal tablets will need to be prescribed by your GP as they can cause side effects. This is thought to be effective in 60-80% of cases and can take 6-8 months to clear the infection.
  • Removing the nail: A minor procedure performed under local anaesthetic to remove the nail may be advised if your fungal nail infection doesn’t respond to antifungal treatment. Your GP or a podiatrist can advise you on whether this would be a good option for you. 
  • Laser treatment: Early research suggests treating fungal nails with high doses of light energy (laser treatment) can help to destroy the fungus. This is only available privately and often requires multiple treatment sessions over the course of a year.

What causes fungal nails?

Most fungal nail infections are caused by the same fungi that cause athlete’s foot – in fact, fungal nails can often develop as a secondary condition if athlete’s foot is left untreated. The skin houses many micro-organisms, including fungi, but in the right conditions, such as the dark, warm and damp conditions your feet are often subject to, these fungi thrive and multiply, causing a fungal infection.

Fungal infections such as athlete’s foot can be picked up in a number of ways. It might be the case that your feet have remained moist and warm, allowing the natural fungi on your body to develop into the condition. Alternatively, you can also receive the condition from others who already have a fungal infection, whether through direct or indirect contact with the infected area.

You should a GP or podiatrist about your fungal nails if:

  • The infection is severe and hasn’t responded to treatments after the expected time period.
  • The infection has spread to other nails.
  • You have diabetes and fungal nails, as any injury or infection of the foot can lead to complications.

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