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Toenail problems

Fungal nail infections are common as you get older.

A fungal nail infection occurs when a 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 athletes 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 is important to confirm whether it is really a fungal infection, as treatments are different.

To confirm a diagnosis of a fungal infection your GP 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 GP can arrange a funded test. Other health professionals can arrange a test for you, but there is usually a charge of about $65.

Treating a fungal nail infection

You don't always need treatment, and you should discuss the risks and benefits first with your GP. 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:

On the next page: Ingrown toenail

Adapted from Health Navigator by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed September 2019.

See also:

Fungal skin infections

Hammertoe

Page reference: 53658

Review key: HITNP-53658