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HealthInfo Waitaha Canterbury

Fungal nail infections

Fungal nail infections are common as you get older.

A fungal nail infection occurs when fungus infects a fingernail, toenail or the skin under the nail (called the nail bed). Fungi tend to attack nails that are already damaged through small cuts in the skin around your nail, or through the opening between your nail and nail bed.

You can get a fungal nail infection from sharing personal items such as nail clippers or towels or from walking barefoot in public showers or pools. If you have athlete's foot (a fungal infection between the toes), the fungus can spread from your skin to your nail. Having other health problems such as diabetes or rheumatoid arthritis can also make you more likely to get an infection.

Symptoms of a fungal nail infection

Common symptoms of fungal nail infections include:

Diagnosing a fungal nail infection

Many nail problems can look like a fungal infection, such as an old injury, a bacterial infection or psoriasis. So, it's important to confirm whether it's really a fungal infection, as treatments are different.

To confirm a diagnosis of a fungal infection, your general practice team will usually need take a small sample of nail clipping and send it to be tested. It can take several weeks to get the test results, and there is a reasonably high false negative rate.

Your general practice team can arrange a funded test. Other health professionals can arrange a test for you, but there is usually a charge for this.

Treating a fungal nail infection

You do not always need treatment, and you should discuss the risks and benefits with your general practice team. Treatment options include applying topical medications (cream, ointments or paints) or oral medication (tablets or capsules).

Self-care for a fungal nail infection

If you have a fungal nail infection, there are things you can do to care for your toenail and avoid spreading your infection:

Content shared between HealthInfo Canterbury, KidsHealth and Health Navigator NZ as part of a National Health Content Hub collaborative. Last reviewed April 2023.


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Page reference: 53658

Review key: HICCA-28239