Dr. MJ Bazos MD, Patient Handout
Fungal Infections of Fingernails and Toenails
A fingernail or toenail infection that is caused by a fungus is called onychomycosis (say: "on-ee-koh-my-ko-sis"). Toenails are more likely to become infected than fingernails.
This infection can make your nails thick and discolored. You may even have pain in your toes or fingertips.
Who gets fungal nail infections?
Anyone can get a fungal nail infection. These infections are more common in adults older than 60 years of age. They are especially common in people with diabetes or circulation problems. Children hardly ever get fungal nail infections.
Why did I get a fungal nail infection?
It may be hard to know where or how you got a fungal nail infection. A warm, wet place is a good place for a fungus to grow. If you often wear heavy work boots that make your feet warm and sweaty, a fungus can grow around your toenails. If you often walk barefooted in locker rooms, you can pick up a fungus from the warm, wet floors.
People whose hands are often wet (for example, dishwashers in restaurants and professional house cleaners) are more likely to get fungal fingernail infections.
Sometimes several people in a family will get fungal infections in their nails at the same time. This can happen because their immune systems aren't able to fight off the infection very well or because the infection is being passed when they use the same towels.
How do I find out if I have a fungal nail infection?
If you think you have a fungal infection in your fingernails or toenails, see your doctor. By looking carefully at your nails, your doctor might be able to tell if you have an infection.
To be sure of what kind of infection you have, your doctor might scrape a little bit of tissue from your nail and send it to a lab. It might be a few weeks before your doctor gets the results of the lab test. The test can tell if you have a fungal infection or another kind of infection.
How is a fungal nail infection treated?
Several medicines can treat a fungal nail infection. Some of these medicines are not safe for people who have liver problems or a history of congestive heart failure. Be sure to let your doctor know if you have one of these conditions. Your doctor will decide which medicine is right for you.
You might only need to take the medicine for 6 weeks. You might need to take it for 6 months, or longer. It depends on where the infection is and how bad it is.
What can I do to take care of my nails?
Here are some things you can do to take care of your nails if you have a fungal infection: