Fungal nail infection

Fungal nail infections are common. They’re not serious but they can take a long time to treat.

Fungal nail infections usually affect your toenails but you can get them on your finger nails too.

If you have diabetes you should see a foot specialist because any foot injury can lead to complications.

Treating fungal nail infections at home

Small fungal nail infections may not need medication.

You should:

  • keep your feet clean and dry
  • use separate clippers or scissors to cut your infected nails

If the look of your nail bothers you or it’s painful, speak to your pharmacist. They may suggest:

  • antifungal nail cream - it can take up to 12 months to cure the infection and doesn’t always work
  • nail softening cream - used for 2 weeks to soften the nail so the infection can be scraped off

The infection is cured when you see healthy nail growing back at the base.

Treatment from your GP

Your GP can prescribe you tablets if your infection is severe or has spread to other nails.

You need to take tablets every day for up to 6 months.

Tablets can have side effects including:

  • headaches
  • itching
  • loss of taste
  • diarrhoea

You can’t take antifungal tablets if you’re pregnant or have certain conditions. They can damage your liver.

Badly infected nails sometimes need to be removed. It’s a small procedure done under local anaesthetic.

Other treatment

Laser treatment uses laser to destroy the fungus.

You’ll have to pay for it as it’s not covered by the NHS. It can be expensive. There’s little evidence to show it’s a long-term cure as most studies only follow patients for three months.

Preventing fungal nail infection

Fungal nail infections develop when your feet are constantly warm and damp. You’re more likely to get an infection if you wear trainers for a long time and have hot, sweaty feet.

Treat athlete’s foot as soon as possible to avoid it spreading to the nails.

To prevent fungal nail infection:

  • keep your feet clean and dry
  • wear clean socks every day
  • don’t wear shoes that make your feet hot and sweaty
  • wear flip flops in showers at the gym, pool etc
  • don’t share towels
  • throw out old shoes
  • don’t wear other people’s shoes

Medical detail about fungal nail infections