What is fungal nail infection?
Fungal infections of toenails and fingernails (also known as onychomycosis, or tinea of the nails) can cause nails to develop patches of white, black or yellow discolouration.1–3 Around 10% of the general population suffers from fungal nail infections, but this increases with age to 50% in those over 70 years of age.1
Mild fungal nail infections do not usually cause pain or discomfort. If you experience pain or discomfort in the area you should see your doctor.4
What causes fungal nail infection?
Fungal infections of the nail are most commonly caused by dermatophytes (a type of fungus).1,3 Although not as common, fungal nail infections can also be caused by other types of fungi (e.g. yeasts). When a fungal nail infection is caused by a dermatophyte, the condition is specifically known as tinea unguium.3
What Are the Signs of Fingernail Infection?
Fungal nail infections can present in many different ways depending on the spread and cause of the infection.3
Mild fungal infections of toenails and fingernails cause discolouration of the nail. Hallmarks of fungal infections are the nail becoming crumbly and forming distinctive yellow spikes.3 Toenails are around seven times more likely to be affected than fingernails due to slower nail growth, less blood supply, and the amount of time spent in dark and moist environments .1,3 Fungal infections may affect only a single nail or, in extreme cases, all nails.1
There’s a wide range of symptoms associated with fungal nail infections. Here’s a few:5
- Nails start to lift away from the nail bed
- Nails get thicker or crumbly
- Flaking or pitting on the surface of the nail.
How are Fungal Nail Infections Treated?
There are a range of oral (taken by mouth) and topical (applied directly to the nail) treatments available. Treatments depend on the severity of the infection.1
Topical treatments can be used for mild infections2 and include nail lacquers applied daily to affected nails for several weeks to months.
What are the solutions for fungal nail infection?
Topical treatments are an option for mild fungal nail infections.3
If you experience symptoms beyond those described above or you are concerned about your nail infection, speak to your doctor.4
Prevention of fungal infection
Wear shoes that are well-fitting and breathable3
Don’t share towels.5
Wear protective footwear at public swimming pools and communal showers.3
Optimising your general foot health
A simple maintenance routine is the best way of keeping your feet healthy and odour-free.
Daily care: A pharmacist, doctor or podiatrist can advise on a daily care routine.
Footwear: Ensure that your shoes fit properly (both in width and length) and are right for your activity
Appearance: Check the appearance of your feet regularly for any changes.
Movement and flexibility: Check that you can move your feet easily, without discomfort; some simple stretches may help
Referral: Speak with your pharmacist or podiatrist if you have any concerns
Always read the label. Follow the directions for use. If symptoms persist, talk to your health
1. Westerberg, DP and Voyack, MJ (2013) Onychomycosis- Current Trends in Diagnosis and Treatment. Am Fam Physician 88(11):762-770.
2. Botek, G. (2003) Fungal nail infection: Assessing the new treatment options. Cleveland Clinic
Journal of Medicine 70(2): 110-118.
3. Eisman, S. and Sinclair, R. (2014) Fungal Nail Infection: diagnosis and management. BMJ 348:g1800.
4. Therapeutic Guidelines. Nail disorders. Available at: https://tgldcdp.tg.org.au/viewTopic?topicfile=naildisorders&guidelineName=Dermatology#toc_d1e257 (accessed 6 July 2020).
5. Better Health Channel. Nails – fingernail and toenail problems. Available at: https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/ConditionsAndTreatments/nails-fingernail-andtoenail-problems (accessed 6 July 2020).