Understanding Fungal Toenail Infections

Posted on: 31 March 2015

The fungi present in toenail infections require keratin to survive. Keratin is the main structural component of your nails, so once you get a fungal toenail infection it can be difficult to get rid of it. The fungi are highly contagious and can spread to any unaffected toenails, but you can also pass the infection to other people. Avoid spreading a fungal toenail infection by not sharing towels, wearing swimming socks at the pool and wearing shoes in the house. Here's what you need to know about fungal toenail infections:


There's not always an identifiable cause for a fungal nail infection, but the following circumstances can put you at risk:

  • Wearing shoes that make your feet sweat or being in a humid environment, as fungi thrive in hot, moist conditions
  • Damaged nails can be more susceptible to infection
  • A weakened immune system can leave you unable to fight off a fungal infection
  • You can pick up a fungal infection from using communal showers or a swimming pool


Symptoms of a fungal toenail infection include the following:

  • Thickened and discoloured nails, which may look yellow or black
  • Crumbling nails
  • You may experience pain around the affected toenails if they are left untreated


Your podiatrist will diagnose a fungal toenail infection by inspecting your nails and sending a nail sample to be analysed. If it's determined the infection has been caused by fungi, your podiatrist will talk you through the treatment options. Treatment may include the following:

Antifungal Nail Paint

Antifungal nail paint is applied like nail varnish, but it's clear. It coats your nail with a topical antifungal cleanser that gradually kills off the fungi. This treatment can take several weeks to clear the infection, but it's inexpensive and simple. It can work well if the infection is limited to the tips of your nails but may not be the best first-line treatment if the skin around your nails is also infected, as the paint is specifically formulated to be effective on nails and won't kill fungi on the surrounding skin.

Laser Treatment

Laser treatment is painless and can be carried out by your podiatrist. It involves having a small laser passed over the affected nails for several minutes during each session. The light energy produced by the laser gradually kills the fungi, and you'll continue to have laser treatment sessions until the affected nails grow out and are replaced by healthy nail growth.

Antifungal Tablets

Antifungal tablets are available on prescription, and the active ingredient is absorbed into your bloodstream and travels to your nail beds where it prevents fungi from inhabiting new nail growth. As the infected nails grow out, healthy nails take their place, but oral antifungals are potent and come with a list of potential side effects, which can include headaches, stomach pain and diarrhoea. Weigh up the pros and cons of oral antifungals with your GP and podiatrist before opting for this treatment.

Never self-diagnose a fungal toenail infection as there can be other explanations for changes to your nails such as a circulatory problem. If you have any symptoms of a fungal nail infection, schedule an appointment with your podiatrist as soon as possible. For more information, contact a business such as Quinns Podiatry.