Fungal nail infections are common. They are not usually serious but can be unpleasant and take a long time to treat. Fungal nail infections usually affect your toenails, but you can get them on your fingernails too.

Causes of fungal nail infections:

Most fungal nail infections occur because of the fungi that cause athlete's foot infecting the nails.

These fungi often live harmlessly on your skin. But they can sometimes multiply and lead to infections. The fungi prefer warm, dark, and moist places like the feet.


A fungal nail infection may not cause any obvious symptoms at first.

As it progresses, the infection can cause:

  • discolouration of the nail – it may turn white, black, yellow or green
  • thickening and distortion of the nail – it may become an unusual shape or texture and be difficult to trim
  • pain or discomfort – particularly when using or placing pressure on the affected toe or finger
  • brittle or crumbly nails – pieces may break off and come away completely

Sometimes the skin nearby may also become infected. The skin can be itchy and cracked or red and swollen.

Self-help tips

You can reduce your risk of developing a fungal nail infection by:

  • keeping your hands and feet clean and dry
  • wearing well-fitting shoes made of natural materials and clean cotton socks – these will allow your feet to ’breathe’
  • clipping your nails to keep them short – don't share clippers or scissors with other people
  • not sharing towels and socks with other people, and make sure your towels are washed regularly
  • not walking around barefoot in public pools, showers, and locker rooms – special shower shoes are available to protect your feet
  • replacing old footwear that could be contaminated with fungi
  • treating athlete's foot as soon as possible to avoid the infection spreading to your nails


Treatment is not always needed for a mild fungal nail infection. This is because it is unlikely to cause any further problems and you may feel it is not worth treating.

Speak to your pharmacist if you are bothered by the appearance of the affected nail, or it is causing problems such as pain and discomfort.

You could be prescribed topical medications or tablets which would help if needed