Toenail infections are common. If you have one, your toenail changes colour and it can be uncomfortable, but there are many ways of treating it.
What is a toenail infection?
A toenail infection occurs when bacteria or a fungus grows on or under your nail.
You might notice the following symptoms:
- your nail becomes thicker and rougher
- you have white or yellow spots or stripes on the nail
- the nail has crumbling edges
- the nail turns white, yellow or brown
- the nail separates from the nail bed
- you feel pain
If you have diabetes, it is important to see your doctor as soon as symptoms appear. A toenail infection can cause complications.
What are the causes of a toenail infection?
Toenail infections are mainly caused by a fungus. Feet are an ideal place for fungi to grow. They grow well in warm, moist places.
They can also be caused by bacteria, which can get under your toenail if your skin gets damaged.
Toenail infection diagnosis
Your doctor can tell you if you have a toenail infection. They can scrape a sample from your nail for testing. If you see a podiatrist, they can:
- look at your feet
- diagnose foot and nail diseases
- suggest treatment
The Australian College of Dermatologists recommend that a toenail infection is confirmed by a laboratory sample prior to prescribing treatment. This is because 50% of thickened and distorted toenails are caused by a condition other than a fungal nail infection, such as pressure from footwear, trauma, or disorders such as psoriasis. For more information, visit the Choosing Wisely Australia website.
Toenail infection treatment
Treatment of a toenail infection depends on the cause. It can take more than a year to treat, and toenail infections can often come back. Treatments include:
- taking antibiotics or antifungal medicines
- removing the infected nail
- using antifungal nail paints
Toenail infection prevention
You can help prevent a toenail infection by:
- ensuring your feet are dried properly
- keeping your toenails short
- wearing clean socks
- wearing open-toed shoes
- wearing footwear in public showers
- not sharing nail scissors
- using an antifungal spray in your shoes
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Last reviewed: April 2018