Diagnosis is made based on clinical exam and can be confirmed by viewing scrapings of the nail under a microscope, or growing the fungus in a culture medium. This is not an easy condition to cure, so rather than trying home treatment with over-the-counter medications, it's best to see your doctor. As with many conditions, nail fungus infections are easier to treat if you catch them early.
Over-the-counter antifungal treatments. Antifungal creams and ointments treat toenail infections while helping to keep new fungus out so new nails can grow. Some treatments must be applied every day, others are applied once a week. It’s a good idea to apply topical treatments to both the foot and nail simultaneously to prevent foot fungus from spreading to the toes. If you trim your toenails well (see above) before applying an antifungal, the medicine can reach deeper into the nailbed.
Toenail injury: There are two types of injuries that can occur to your toenail. The first is acute trauma where the nail is impacted over and over again as in the case of a runner wearing shoes that don’t fit well. The other thing that can happen is blunt trauma where something falls on your toe such as a heavy object and causes an injury. This injury makes your toenail more susceptible to fungus. It is important in both cases to look after your toenails properly to avoid an infection.
White superficial onychomycosis (WSO) is caused by fungal invasion of the superficial layers of the nail plate to form "white islands" on the plate. It accounts for around 10 percent of onychomycosis cases. In some cases, WSO is a misdiagnosis of "keratin granulations" which are not a fungus, but a reaction to nail polish that can cause the nails to have a chalky white appearance. A laboratory test should be performed to confirm.
Because fungal spores can remain viable for months in these environments, frequent exposure can increase the risk of infection (and re-infection). Fungal spores can be picked up in many ways – such as wearing shoes that harbour the organism, by walking barefoot in areas where the fungus is prevalent (especially public showers and locker rooms), by wearing wet shoes or socks for long periods, through previous injury to the toe or toenail that opens a path for easy entry of the fungus, or by wearing improperly-fitting shoes.
*All medications have both common (generic) and brand names. The brand name is what a specific manufacturer calls the product (e.g., Tylenol®). The common name is the medical name for the medication (e.g., acetaminophen). A medication may have many brand names, but only one common name. This article lists medications by their common names. For information on a given medication, check our Drug Information database. For more information on brand names, speak with your doctor or pharmacist.
Athlete’s foot is one of the most common foot infections. It can be easily acquired, especially by people who often use communal showers and pools, such as those in college dorms or gyms. It grows in warm, damp places like public showers, locker rooms, and pools. It is also common with shoes that are too tight or socks or shoes that are damp. Athletes foot is contracted from getting pedicures with not properly sanitized equipment.
Oral/combination therapy. Some studies have shown that taking antifungal pills and applying antifungals to your nails can be more effective than using either treatment alone. Oral medications can typically treat toenail fungus in three months. In stubborn cases, topical and oral medications may be combined to provide the best possible treatment. Oral medications must be prescribed by your physician or health care practitioner.
The most common symptom of a fungal nail infection is the nail becoming thickened and discoloured: white, black, yellow or green. As the infection progresses the nail can become brittle, with pieces breaking off or coming away from the toe or finger completely. If left untreated, the skin underneath and around the nail can become inflamed and painful. There may also be white or yellow patches on the nailbed or scaly skin next to the nail, and a foul smell. There is usually no pain or other bodily symptoms, unless the disease is severe. People with onychomycosis may experience significant psychosocial problems due to the appearance of the nail, particularly when fingers – which are always visible – rather than toenails are affected.
Sometimes people with a fungal nail infection are offered laser treatment. This involves shining infrared or ultraviolet (UV) light on the nail in order to kill the fungi. Laser treatments haven’t been proven to work in good quality studies. Because statutory health insurers in Germany don’t cover the costs of this treatment, people have to pay for it themselves.
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and should not be relied on to make decisions about your health. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the WebMD Site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
Dermatophytes — fungus that grows on the skin, hair and nails but don’t penetrate tissues of the body. Athlete’s foot or Trichophyton rubrum is the most common dermatophyte and can actually infect the toenails. Infection can also begin by touching objects that have dermatophytes on them, such as nail clippers, nail files, socks, shoes, shower floors, etc. Dermatophytes are the cause of most fungal toenail infections.
Topical agents such as amorolfine (Loceryl 5% nail lacquer; applied once or twice a week) and ciclopirox (Penlac 8% nail lacquer; applied daily) are usually prescribed for mild forms of the disease, but the treatment periods are long and their efficacy is somewhat limited due to poor nail plate penetration. These medications kill fungi by interfering with their cell membranes, which leads to their death.
Athlete's foot, known medically as tinea pedis, is a common skin infection of the feet caused by fungus. Signs and symptoms often include itching, scaling, cracking and redness. In rare cases the skin may blister. Athlete's foot fungus may infect any part of the foot, but most often grows between the toes. The next most common area is the bottom of the foot. The same fungus may also affect the nails or the hands. It is a member of the group of diseases known as tinea.
High heeled shoes push too much body weight toward the toes and then squeeze them together. Over time, the result can be hammertoe (early stage, lower right), abnormal bends in the toe joints that can gradually become rigid. Surgery is sometimes needed to relieve the pain of severe hammertoe. Crowding can cause other toe deformities, along with continuous shoe friction, leading to painful corns and calluses.
Red or black nails due to a hematoma, or blood under the nail, usually occur from trauma (like whacking yourself on the thumb with a hammer). The discolored area will grow out with the nail and be trimmed off as you trim your nails. If you have a black spot under your nail that was not caused by trauma, you may want to see a dermatologist or a podiatrist if it involves a toenail to make sure it is not melanoma (a type of skin cancer associated with pigmented cells). A simple biopsy can rule out malignancy (cancer).
Fungal infection occurs when the organism invades through an opening in the nail, meaning fungi will usually attack nails that are already damaged. After infection occurs, the growth of the fungi leads to mild inflammation, which causes the nail to thicken and the nail plate to detach from the nail bed. The space underneath the nail can then serve as a reservoir for bacteria and moulds, which can cause the nail to become discoloured.
Before buying new shoes, have a professional measure the length and width of your feet at the end of the day, while you're standing. For unusually flat feet or high arches, an exam by a podiatrist may be warranted. These conditions can increase the risk of osteoarthritis. Early treatment and use of proper footwear may help to avoid unnecessary wear and tear on the joints of the foot.
Infected nails are usually thicker than normal and could be warped or oddly shaped. They can break easily. Nails with fungus might look yellow. Sometimes a white dot shows up on the nail and then gets bigger. When fungus builds up under your nail, it can loosen and even separate the nail from the bed. The fungus can also spread to the skin around your nail.