Fungal nails: Why do my toenails look like they are dying?

Knowing the causes and treatments of fungal nails, you will be able to show your toenails in public again

Fungal nails, also known as onychomycosis, is a type of fungal infection very common in toenails. Fungal infections cause nails to thicken, discolour, deform, crumble and split. As well as being aesthetically unpleasing, fungal infections can at times become painful. As the changes are subtle and generally very slow to develop, it is common for people to overlook any fungal changes to toenails.

Causes of fungal nails

Risk factors that may put you at an increased risk of developing fungal toenails include:

  • trauma to the nail (direct trauma or repetitive micro trauma such as rubbing from footwear)
  • poor hygiene – not washing and drying feet thoroughly
  • living in a warm, humid environment
  • excessive sweating
  • people with compromised immune system (diabetes)
  • poor peripheral circulation
  • prolonged wearing of enclosed footwear/socks
  • working in a wet/damp environment
  • ‘suffocating’ nails with nail polish

Communal showers and public swimming pools are notorious common breeding grounds due to high traffic of bare feet. Nail salons that do not sterilise their instruments are also culprits for spreading fungal infections.


Caring for fungal nails is often slow and can sometimes take up to 18 months. Most anti-fungal treatments work to inhibit the spread of the fungal infection. Toenails grow slowly, approximately 3mm a month. This is the reason it can take some length of time to treat fungal nails as it takes time for the fungal nail to grow out and for new, healthy nail to replace it. Re-infection is common, so it is important that you find the cause and modify your risk of re-infection (changing to well fitted shoes, wear thongs in the swimming pool showers, change your nail salon etc.). People with medical illnesses that compromise immunity (e.g. diabetics) can have more difficulty eradicating the fungus.

Ongoing care

Visiting a qualified podiatrist for nail care is essential. Podiatrist have strict regulations to ensure their instruments are clean. At The Foot Group we use ultrasonic cleaners to clean the instruments of gross debris, and apply high steam and pressure via an autoclave to ensure our equipment is sterile and rid of any bacterial and fungal spores.

Additionally, only podiatry clinics with permanent rooms such as at The Foot Group have specialised equipment such as drills that are most effective in filing back thick, tough nails that can be too difficult to cut with clippers alone. Efficient filing of the infected nail leads to better treatment outcomes and reduced chance of re-infection.

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