Harvard Women's Health Watch

Staying one step ahead of toenail fungus

An established fungal infection is hard to eradicate, but you can stop its spread and improve your toenail's appearance.

Toenail fungus isn't a pressing health problem. Yet a fungal infection can ruin the appearance of your nails and cause pain as it lifts the nail away from the nail bed. And fungal infections are notoriously difficult to get rid of. "You may want to consider fungal toenail a condition to be managed rather than cured," says Dr. James P. Ioli, chief of the podiatry service at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women's Hospital.

How fungi infect the nail

Onchomycosis, or toenail fungal infection, is an invasion by a microscopic organism that thrives in warm, damp environments. Fungal spores are in the air, and they will grow if they land on a receptive surface like your toenail. They feed off the nail tissues, burrowing into the skin under the nail. Over time the nail thickens and may lift off the nail bed as fungal debris accumulates. Once your nail is raised off the nail bed, it won't reattach, and a new nail won't grow from that part of the nail bed. However, your nail will continue to grow from the root at the base.

To continue reading this article, you must login.
  • Research health conditions
  • Check your symptoms
  • Prepare for a doctor's visit or test
  • Find the best treatments and procedures for you
  • Explore options for better nutrition and exercise
Learn more about the many benefits and features of joining Harvard Health Online »