Fungal nail infection

What causes a fungal nail infection?

They can be caused by the same micro-organisms that cause athlete’s foot. They use the keratin in your nails as a food source and cause discolouration and thickening. Often the discolouration is white, yellow or brown. Black nails are usually caused by trauma (stubbing or dropping something on your toe) but if you haven’t damaged your toe and your nail becomes black or green, seek advice from your podiatrist or a dermatologist as it should be looked at.

Who gets fungal nail infections?

Anyone could get a fungal nail infection. They are often a result of trauma or poor foot hygiene.

Treatment options

There are many schools of thought surrounding how to treat nail infections. This is because nail fungus is particularly difficult to get rid of.

In the first instance ideally the nail should be tested for fungal presence, this may require further cultures to identify the microbes and then a suitable course of action can be taken.

If it is a superficial infection, you can file the nail surface with a file and apply medicated nail varnish or cream weekly. This treatment requires dedication for a minimum of 9 months. If the nails are very thickened, you may require your podiatrist to thin the nails for you using a gentle scalpel debridement.

There are also gentle micro-drilling treatments such as Clearanail which can be effective. These make tiny holes in the nail plate to allow a topical medicament to be administered by you on a daily basis.

If there is a confirmed fungal presence in the nail ideally it should be cultured and then you may be prescribed systemic anti-fungal tablets by your GP. This is the most effective treatment option however, these tablets can have some side effects and your GP may not be keen to prescribe them.

If the nail is very thickened and painful, then you may wish to consider a surgical nail removal. This is a minor op and then you need to apply a daily treatment as the new nail grows back.  Your registered podiatrist will be able to carry out this procedure for you under local anaesthetic.


Often, fungal nail infections are symptom free. They will only leave the nail slightly discoloured, thickened or brittle. Nail fungus is extremely difficult to totally resolve but treatment should be tried to prevent the infection from becoming a significant problem later on.

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