What are the different types of toenail fungus?


Toenail fungus, also known as a fungal nail infection, is anything but fun. They’re common and usually aren’t anything to worry about, typically affecting the toenails due to the warm and moist breeding ground of your feet that’s ideal for fungus. However, they can occasionally affect the fingernails.
Just like there are different strains of the cold and flu viruses, there are different types of nail fungus, too, and it can be tricky to tell them apart. That’s why we’ve compiled this guide to help you understand the type of fungal nail infection you have in order to find the most effective treatment.
Despite not being serious, they can take a long time to treat, so the quicker you act, the quicker you can hit your fungal nail on the head!

The different types of toenail fungus

Your fungal nail infection may affect part of the nail, the entire nail or even multiple nails. But how can you identify whether you have a fungal nail infection? Well, the nail may have a yellow or brown colour to it, appear distorted, brittle and thickened, and may lift from the nailbed. There may also be an odour coming from the infected nail.
These are just some common symptoms, but each different type of fungus can present a different set of symptoms, which we’ll discuss in more detail below.

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Distal subungual infection

This is the most common type of nail infection, and it’s caused by the dermatophyte fungus. It starts underneath the nail in the nail bed, with a yellow coloured area that will spread from the edges of the nail to the centre.

White superficial infection

This is an uncommon type of fungus and it only affects the nail surface. It begins with white spots that become powdery, causing the nail to crumble.

Proximal subungual infection

This fungus is rare and typically only affects people with a weakened immune system, like people diagnosed with HIV. First, white spots will appear in the centre of the nail bed, at the cuticle, and gradually move outward as the nail grows.


Who’s more at risk?

As with all infections, there’s going to be certain people more at risk of developing a fungal nail infection than others. Men are more likely than women to develop one, and the older you are puts you at a higher risk, too.
Those who smoke or have family members with a fungal nail infection are more at risk, as well as those with a weakened immune system or conditions like diabetes, HIV or athlete’s foot. If you’re spending a lot of time in water or you have an injured toenail, this also increases your chances.

How to prevent a fungal nail infection

Fungal toenail infections occur when your feet are constantly warm and damp, whether it’s prolonged exposure to water or when your feet are hot and sweating in your shoes. To prevent a nasty fungal nail infection, it’s important to:

  • Keep your feet clean and dry
  • Wear fresh, clean socks every day
  • Get rid of old shoes
  • Treat athlete’s foot as quickly as possible in order to avoid it spreading to the nails
  • Avoid walking barefoot in communal showers at the gym or pool
  • Ensure all nail equipment, such as nail clippers, are cleaned after use



What are the treatment options for a fungal nail infection?

There are a range of antifungal treatments, from antifungal nail cream that cures the infection to nail softening cream, enabling you to scrape off the infected part of the nail. You’ll know the infection has been cured when you see new, healthy nail start to grow back at the base.
However, if your fungal nail infection is severe and these treatments haven’t worked or the infection has spread to other nails, you should seek advice from your GP. They may be able to offer you antifungal tablets to clear the infection, usually taking a sample from the nail first to find out what infection you have.
You might have to take these tablets for a prolonged period of time, and they can cause side effects such as headaches, itching, loss of taste, nausea and diarrhoea. Sometimes, your GP may recommend you to have the infected nail removed, a small procedure where the area is numbed.

Fungal nail infections are unsightly, but they typically aren’t anything to worry about. Nevertheless, if you have a nail infection, you should get it treated as soon as possible because they can take a long time to treat. If you need further information about fungal nail infections, you should speak to a friendly Chemist4U pharmacist, your GP, or look on the NHS website.


Alexandra Moses - Medical Content Writer
James O'Loan - CEO & Superintendent Pharmacist
James O'Loan , CEO & Superintendent Pharmacist on 15 September 2022
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