Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

Toenail infection

Toenail infection
beginning of content

Toenail infection

2-minute read

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

Last reviewed: April 2018

Recommended links

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top results

Toenail infection & fingernail infection | Raising Children Network

If your child has a toenail infection or fingernail infection, the finger or toe might be red and swollen, and there might be pus. Take your child to a GP.

Read more on Raising Children Network website

Feet: checklist for foot health - myDr.com.au

Foot problems such as smelly feet, athlete's foot, plantar warts, corns and infected toenails can all be alleviated through good foot care. Use this checklist of quick questions to check the health of your feet. 

Read more on myDr website

Fungal nail problems - myDr.com.au

Fungal nail infections: risk factors, symptoms, treatment and how to prevent fungal infections of the nails.

Read more on myDr website

Podiatrists | Raising Children Network

Your child might see a podiatrist for ingrown toenails, warts, odd-shaped toenails, curly toes and foot pain. Read more about podiatrists.

Read more on Raising Children Network website

Kids' Health - Topics - Look after your feet

Look at your feet

Read more on Women's and Children's Health Network website

Toenail problems - myDr.com.au

Because they are so far away from our heart, our feet are often the first part of the body to show something is wrong with the way blood circulates in our body.

Read more on myDr website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information and advice

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo