Fungal infections of the nails can be the result of the same fungi that cause athlete’s foot, jock itch and ringworm. Common sources of fungal infections include public swimming pools and gym locker rooms and showers. People who perspire a lot are also more susceptible to this kind of condition. Fungal infections occur more often in feet than hands, probably due to their warm moist environment and the fact that we do not wash them as often as hands.

The following sections offer detailed information for some common questions and different elements of nail infection.

You can help to keep fungal infections at bay by observing the following practices:

  • Keep skin clean and dry.
  • Do not share tools such as nail files.
  • Trim your nails straight across.
  • Use antifungal spray or powder daily.
  • Give feet a break from shoes to let skin breathe.
  • Do not go barefoot in public places.

You may be able to tell if you have a fungal infection just by examining your nails for changes in appearance. Examine your nails for signs, such as the following:

  • Do nails look brittle?
  • Has the nail shape changed?
  • Are the nail edges crumbling?
  • Is there debris trapped under the nail?
  • Does nail seem to be loose or lifting?
  • Is the nail thicker than before?
  • Do you notice white or yellow streaks?
  • Are nails dull and lacking shine?

The only way to accurately tell whether you have a fungal infection is for your doctor to take a sample (by clipping and scraping under the nail) and send it to a lab, where it will be examined under a microscope and cultured (grown in a Petri dish). Treating fungal infections generally requires prescription-strength topical and/or oral medication, which you would take for up to three months. Treatment is successful in about 50 per cent of cases. Even when a fungal infection does go away, there is a good chance that it will return. In the case of a severe fungal infection, the doctor may recommend surgery—removing the nail.

It is important to treat nail fungal infections, since they can also lead to other ones in the skin and elsewhere in the body. They can also permanently damage affected nails, and potentially lead to paronychia (a type of skin infection that occurs around nails).

Many different factors can lead to fungal infections:
  • Using tools that have been used on other people
  • Minor skin or nail injuries
  • Nail deformities or disease
  • Prolonged exposure to moist conditions
  • Having diabetes, poor blood circulation, or a weakened immune system
  • Wearing closed-in footwear, especially if made of material that does not breathe