How Do I Know Whether It's a Fungal Nail Infection?

The fungus could be one of the primary causes of up to half of all nail infections. Fingernails as well as toenails could be affected by fungal nail infection. People having type 2 diabetes need to be extra careful about toenail fungus. Fungal nail infection (onychomycosis) on toenails is twice as likely in diabetic feet as compared to others.

Types of Fungal Nail Infections

There are four types of fungal nail infections. Even though the appearance of all of them is different, they might be troublesome if not treated on time.

  • Distal or lateral subungual onychomycosis− This is the most common kind of fingernail or toenails fungal infection which results from a fungus called a dermatophyte. It commences in the nail bed, underneath the nail and you’ll see a yellowish-coloured area that spreads from the edges of the nail to the centre.

  • White superficial onychomycosis− This is a less common infection and only affects the nail surface, primarily on your toenails. It begins as white spots, which get powdery and eventually cause the nail to crumble.

  • Proximal subungual onychomycosis− This appears first on the toenail or fingernail as white spots in the centre of the nail bed at the cuticle and moves outward as the nail grows. It’s rare and generally affects people who have poor immune systems.

  • Candidal onychomycosis− This infection is caused by yeast and mainly affects fingernails. The area around the nails often gets swollen and inflamed, and the nail(s) may come off completely. Usually, it happens to nails that have been damaged by an injury or another infection.

Symptoms of Fungal Nail Infections

Our toes and feet are often exposed to damp and warm areas and hence, toenails can easily develop fungal nail infections as compared to fingernails.

You may develop toenail fungal infection if your feet are exposed to swimming pools for a long time. Also, if you tend to wear the same pair of damp and sweaty footwear all the time or frequently walk around in damp locker rooms, you may be affected by a fungal infection. If by chance you injure your toenail and do not treat the wound well, it may catch fungus as well.

If you have got fungal nail infection, apart from these above-mentioned outward symptoms, over time your nails may also turn white, yellow, green or brown. Moreover, the nails may have white spots on the surface, grow thicker than normal in some rare cases may grow thinner than normal.

Some other symptoms of fungal nail infection may include a change of nail's shape, bad smell, nails getting brittle with broken or jagged edges and pain in the nails.

What are the Precautions?

Fungal nail infections may get worse over time if not treated properly. If you are not able to identify if it's a fungal nail infection or any other nail problem, you must immediately consult a doctor. If the fungal infection is on the toenail, visiting a podiatrist (foot doctor) may prove more beneficial.

If you notice your nail has turned brown or black, if it pains unbearably, or if it pulls away from the nail bed, it's time to see a doctor for a nail examination as it could be a fungal nail infection. Diabetic people should always check their toenails and if the look of toenails changes a little, they should consult their doctor as soon as possible.

Prevention is better than cure and to keep your nails from fungus free you can adopt the following measures −

  • Always wash your hands and feet in clean water and make sure to keep them clean and dry.

  • Cut the toenails straight across and keep your fingernails and toenails trimmed short.

  • Never walk barefoot in locker rooms or on pool decks as these areas are mostly damp.

  • When your feet get sweaty, make sure to change socks and shoes. Wash these socks in clean water and disinfectant for better hygiene.

  • Keep more than one pair of sneakers and dry out your sweaty pair before wearing them again.

How to Treat Fungal Nail Infections?

Fungal nail infections can be treated at home if it's not severe. Antifungal creams and lotions are easily available in a drug store and could be purchased without a doctor's prescription. However, these creams may cure the infection for the time being and the nail infection may come back.

Home Remedies

Mentholated salves, such as Vicks VapoRub may help in treating a fungal nail infection. You can swab a small amount on the nail every day till the nail gets back to its normal state. Snakeroot extract is a natural antifungal from the sunflower family and for some people, it may work as an antifungal cream.

Tea tree oil is also a natural antiseptic which you may apply to your affected nail twice a day. However, the effectiveness of applying tea tree oil on nails is still unclear. Soaking the affected nail(s) in Listerine or vinegar for 5 minutes a day may aid in treating fungal nail infections as they can dry the affected nail(s).


Consulting a dermatologist for fingernail infection and a podiatrist for toenail infection could be the best option if the infection is not cured even after using home remedies. Doctors may gently scrape under the affected nail to get rid of some fungus to provide you relief. Later on, they will send the sample for testing in a laboratory for diagnosis.

The laboratory test is conducted to understand the severity of the fungal nail infection. This test also helps the doctor to decide upon the treatment plan. Doctors may also suggest thinning your nail first with a file or urea lotion so that the medicine works better.

Depending on the requirement of the patient, the doctor may recommend topical drugs like the following−

  • Ciclopirox (Ciclodan, Penlac, Loprox),

  • Efinaconazole (Jublia),

  • Itraconazole (Sporanox),

  • Naftifine (Naftin),

  • Tavaborole (Kerydin) or

  • Terbinafine (Lamisil).

Sometimes side effects like redness, swelling, stinging and burning may occur when you apply them to the affected nail. These medications are not generally given to people having liver or heart problems as they may interact with other medicines.

Other Treatments

Laser treatment is a fairly new treatment where high doses of light are given to the patient on the affected nail(s). With this treatment stubborn fungus may be destroyed, however, it is costly and may not be affordable for everyone.

If all of the above-mentioned treatments don't work or the patient is in a lot of pain, the doctor may suggest a nail removal treatment in which the infected nail is completely removed. Although it could take more than a year, nail removal treatment allows a new healthy nail to grow.


You may easily identify if it's a fungal nail infection or any other nail infection if you carefully observe a change in the shape and colour of the affected nail(s). Predominantly this infection occurs in toenails as compared to fingernails and you can treat the same within no time provided you get in touch with your doctor as soon as possible.