The most common symptoms of a fungal infection of the nail include changes in the physical appearance of the nail itself. This may mean that the nail becomes thick or brittle, discolored, or begins to crack, peel, or flake off. Symptoms may vary for different types of fungal infections, but any type of fungal infection of the nail will cause noticeable changes to at least one nail, if not the surrounding nails. The infection will typically start very small at the tip of the nail, and then worsen over time, until the entire nail is infected.
A fungal infection of the nail is usually first indicated by small white or yellow spots on the nail, or just under the tip of the nail. If the infection is caught in this early stage, it is much easier to treat and get rid of; otherwise, treating fungal infections can take months before they are fully cleared up. Most people do not notice these infections early enough, however, and the fungal infection of the nail will continue to spread. Discoloration of the nail is one of the first symptoms, followed by a change in physical appearance or texture. The nail will typically become darker or yellowed, and may look duller and simply unhealthy.
Most commonly, a fungal infection of the nail will cause the toenail to thicken and become more difficult to cut; it may also become brittle with ragged edges. Some people also find that the nails will develop cracks, or begin to flake and peel. Though pain is not commonly associated with fungal infections in the nails, it can occur, particularly because some fungal infections will cause the toenail to begin to separate from the skin or even fall off. Some people also notice a slight odor, or that the surrounding skin has also become red and flaky.
It is important to treat a fungal infection of the nail to ensure that it does not get worse or spread to other nails; topical and oral medications are available, as well as some home treatments that some people find effective, such as soaking the toenail in white vinegar. The best way to prevent a fungal infection of the nail is to keep the feet clean and dry, and to wear shoes that fit well and that do not restrict movement. This is healthy for the feet as well, not just the toes, since fungal infections such as athlete's foot are also more likely to occur in damp, dark environments.