Top of the page
A fungal nail infection is an infection that occurs when a fungus attacks your fingernail, toenail, or nail bed. Fungi can attack your nails through small cuts in the skin around the nail or through the opening between the nail and nail bed. If you're healthy, the infection probably won't cause serious problems.
Fungal nail infections can be caused by yeasts, moulds, and other kinds of fungus.
Fungi grow best in warm, moist places. They can spread from person to person. You can get a fungal nail infection from walking barefoot in public showers or pools or by sharing personal items, such as towels and nail clippers. If you have athlete's foot, the fungus can spread from your skin to your nails.
You can have fungi on your skin without getting a nail infection. If you are susceptible to fungal infections, they tend to return. They can come back even after successful treatment and especially if you don't do something to prevent them.
Symptoms often develop slowly over time. A nail with a fungal infection may:
A fungal nail infection usually isn't painful. But over time, you may be uncomfortable or even have pain when you wear shoes, walk, or stand for a long time. The fungus could also spread to other nails or your skin.
To diagnose a fungal nail infection, your doctor will:
The doctor may take a sample of skin and nail fragments from under the infected nail or a sample of the nail itself. Tests to examine the samples include:
If the tests don't show fungi but your doctor still thinks that you have a fungal infection, a nail biopsy may be needed.
It may take time to treat a nail infection. You may need to try several treatments to find one that helps. Even when a treatment works, the nail can get infected again.
Treatment often starts with antifungal medicine.
If you have diabetes or a weak immune system, your doctor may suggest treating the infection, even if it doesn't bother you.
For a mild fungal nail infection, try an antifungal cream, gel, or polish that you put on your nail. To stop the infection from coming back, keep your nails clean and dry. Change socks often. Don't go barefoot in public places. And try not to share personal things like towels and nail clippers.
There are things you can do to avoid getting a fungal nail infection or having it come back.
Applying a topical antifungal medicine may help prevent repeat infections.
Dry skin and nails are less likely to get infected. Put powder on your dry feet or hands after you take a shower or bath.
Let your shoes air out for at least 24 hours before you wear them again.
Change them if your feet get damp or sweaty.
Let them dry between uses.
Cutting nails too short is a common cause of nail injury.
Current as of: March 3, 2021
Author: Healthwise StaffMedical Review: Patrice Burgess MD - Family MedicineAdam Husney MD - Family MedicineMartin J. Gabica MD - Family MedicineEllen K. Roh MD - Dermatology
Current as of: March 3, 2021
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:Patrice Burgess MD - Family Medicine & Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine & Martin J. Gabica MD - Family Medicine & Ellen K. Roh MD - Dermatology
To learn more about Healthwise, visit Healthwise.org.
© 1995-2021 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.