Fungal nail infection

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

Symptoms and causes

Fungal nail infections usually affect your toenails. You can get them on your fingernails too.

The nail on a person's big toe. The sides of the nail are yellow and the edge that's trimmed is flaky
Fungal nail infections usually start at the edge of the nail
Toenails are covered in pale yellow and brown patches and lines
They often then spread to the middle. The nail becomes discoloured and lifts off.
The nail on a person's big toe is yellow and crumbling. It has a piece missing over the tip of the toe.
It can become brittle and pieces can break off. It can cause pain and swelling in the skin around the nail

Non-urgent advice: See a foot specialist if:

  • you have diabetes and a foot injury

Foot injuries can lead to complications.

A pharmacist can help with fungal nail infections

Talk to a pharmacist if the look of your nail bothers you or it's painful.

They may suggest:

  • antifungal nail cream – it can take up to 12 months to cure the infection and does not always work
  • nail-softening cream – used for 2 weeks to soften the nail so you can scrape off the infection

When you see healthy nail growing back at the base, the infection has cleared up.

Non-urgent advice: See a GP if:

  • your fungal nail infection is severe
  • treatment has not worked or the infection has spread to other nails

Treatment from your GP

Your GP can prescribe antifungal tablets. You'll need to take these every day for up to 6 months.

Tablets can have side effects including:

  • headaches
  • itching
  • loss of taste
  • diarrhoea

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

If your nail has a very bad infection, you may need to have it removed. This is a small procedure done under local anaesthetic.

Preventing fungal nail infections

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

To prevent fungal nail infections:


  • treat athlete's foot as soon as possible to avoid it spreading to nails

  • keep your feet clean and dry

  • wear clean socks every day

  • wear flip flops in showers at the gym or pool


  • do not wear shoes that make your feet hot and sweaty

  • do not share towels

  • do not wear other people's shoes

  • do not share nail clippers or scissors

Content supplied by the NHS and adapted for Ireland by the HSE

Page last reviewed: 21 April 2020
Next review due: 21 April 2023

This project has received funding from the Government of Ireland’s Sláintecare Integration Fund 2019 under Grant Agreement Number 123.