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.
Symptoms of a fungal nail infection include:
- yellow or brown discolouration of the nail
- the nail is crumbly when cut
- the nail gets thicker
- the nail separates from the nail bed
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. An example of this is onychomycosis (Tinea).
They can also be caused by bacteria, which can get under the toenail if the 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 half 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: May 2020