What is a Fungal Nail Infection?

What is a Fungal Nail Infection?


Fungi are tiny microorganisms that you could see only through a microscope. Specifically, the fungi that cause nail infections are usually found in the environment, sometimes they live on your skin alongside various bacteria. However, if the fungi are congested and begin to overgrow in one area, the risk of infection becomes higher. They infect you by entering through small pores, openings, or cuts. 

Any area of the body could get affected by fungal infections, however, the ones that affect either the fingernails or toenails are called, “Onychomycosis,” or “tinea unguium.” It is a common condition that develops over time, leading to brittle and discolored nails. 

Fungal Nail Infection? How?

The presence of fungus in, beneath, or on the nail causes a fungal nail infection. Fungi grow in temperate, damp conditions, therefore they may naturally overpopulate in this sort of habitat, if present. Furthermore, nail infections can also be caused by fungi that already reside within your body

It is also possible to say that you might have caught a fungal infection if you came into touch with someone who already has the infection. Toenail fungal infections are more prevalent because of shoes’ humid environments. With toes having less blood supply compared to fingers, it makes it more difficult for your body to detect and prevent infection.

Moreover, if you go to the nail salon, make sure to ask the staff to disinfect their instruments for your own health. If the tools are not cleaned, fungal infections may get transferred to you from another person.

Fungal Nail Infection Causes

A variety of factors may cause fungal nail infections. Although many are avoidable, some could boost the chance of getting a fungal nail infection. You are more susceptible and vulnerable if you are;

  • older, you become older, your nails grow more brittle and prone to cracking.
  • Have a weakened immune system, persistent health issues such as diabetes or poor circulation.
  • Wear shoes that make your feet sweaty and heated; such as tennis shoes or boots.
  • walking barefoot in public gym showers, swimming pools, and locker rooms – locations where fungus thrives.
  • living with someone who has a fungal illness
  • Have an athlete’s foot where the fungus causing it has spread to your nails.
  • Have recently had a nail/skin injury or surgery or had a previous infection from them
  • Wear gloves or keep your hands moist for extended periods of time.
  • Wear artificial nails.

Nail infections are more common in males, and the infections are more common in adults. If you have a family history of certain fungal diseases, you have a high chance of developing an infection.

Types of Fungal Nail Infections

Distal Subungual Infection

The most prevalent form of fungal nail infection is distal subungual infection originating from a fungus called a dermatophyte, which occurs in both fingers and toes. When a nail is infected, the outside border becomes sharp and rough, with white and/or yellow streaks running across it. The infection spreads to the nail bed and below the nail.

White Superficial Infection

Toenails are commonly affected with white superficial infections. A specific form of fungus infects the upper layers of the nail, with white patches. These white spots eventually mask the whole nail, making the nail tough, and fragile. 

Proximal Subungual Infection

These infections are rare but can affect both fingers and toes. It first appears as white/yellow spots at the bottom but continues to move outward as the nail grows. This infection is more frequent in people who have weakened immune systems or have had minor injuries on their feet or hands.

Candida Infection

Candida yeasts are responsible for this form of infection. It is typically seen in individuals who immerse their hands in water. They usually start with the epidermis around the nail becoming swollen, red, and painful to the touch, leading to it being partially or entirely lifted from the skin. 

Fungal Nail Infection Symptoms

The symptoms vary based on the type of fungal nail infection you have. They generally begin mildly and progress to become more serious, affecting part of the nail, the entire nail, or several nails. 

  • You may initially see a white or yellow patch under your nail. This spreads over time and can make your entire nail white, yellow, green, or black.
  • The nail may thicken and become difficult to trim.
  • It may begin to curl up or down, or it may become free from the nail bed.
  • When you touch your nail, it might seem brittle.
  • Your nail might not have its natural shape or form
  • You might notice a bad odor.

Fungal Nail Infection Treatment

Oral Antifungals

The doctor may prescribe a pill to fight off the fungus in your entire body. This is typically the most effective technique to treat a nail infection. If you have an infection in your fingernails, treatment may last two months, or three months if it is in your toes.

Topical Antifungals

These antifungals are applied to your nails. They may be effective for a mild infection, but they cannot penetrate deep enough into the nail to heal a more serious condition. A topical treatment may be used in combination with a tablet.


If alternative therapies fail, your doctor may need to remove your nail completely and let a healthy one grow in its place. Unfortunately, the new nail may potentially become infected too.

Laser or Photodynamic Therapy

Doctors are researching innovative therapies that use a specialized light to eliminate the fungus.

Fungal Nail Infection Prevention

A few basic changes to your lifestyle can help prevent nail fungal infections. These include;

  • Using soap to wash your hands and feet often.
  • Keeping your nails short and trimmed.
  • Wearing socks or rubber gloves to absorb the moisture.
  • Using antifungal spray on your feet and shoes.
  • Thoroughly dry your feet, especially the spaces between the toes.
  • Receiving nail care from reliable and clean shops. 
  • Avoid being barefooted in public areas, and sharing items with people who have nail infections.
  • Avoid injuring your nails or the skin around them. 
  • Lowering your reliance on artificial nails and nail paint. 

Fungal Nail Infection Complications

It may take a year or more for your nails to return to their pre-infection state. You may continue to have issues;

  • The fungus may reappear.
  • Your nails may become permanently discolored, distorted, or lost.
  • The infection has the potential to spread to other places of your body.
  • The onset of a skin infection caused by bacteria known as cellulitis

If you have diabetes, it is important to seriously take care of a fungal nail infection, because you are more likely to get a severe skin infection, as a result.