About toenail infection and fingernail infection
Fingernail or toenail infections can be caused by fungus, bacteria or viruses.
Fungal nail infections are the most common. They happen when fungus gets into the nail through small cracks in the nail or surrounding skin. Fungal infection of the nail is called onychomycosis.
Sometimes infections of the skin around the nail are caused by bacteria or viruses. This is called paronychia.
Fingernail infections and toenail infections can happen if your child bites or chews their fingernails or toenails.
Toenail infections can also happen if your child has an ingrown toenail. This is when the toenail pierces the skin around it. It makes it easier for bacteria to get into the skin.
Children are at a higher risk of nail infections if they have type-1 diabetes, type-2 diabetes or a lowered immune system because of certain medications or medical conditions. Children with Down syndrome also have a higher risk of nail infections.
Nail infections are common in adults but are much less common in children.
Symptoms of toenail infection or fingernail infection
Fungal infections of the nail can make the nail thicken, crumble and change colour – usually to yellow or white, but it can also go green or even black. This often happens slowly, and it’s usually painless.
If the skin on the feet is affected, you might see a scaly rash.
Fungal infections affect the toenails more often than the fingernails.
If your child has a bacterial or viral infection, the skin around your child’s finger or toe will be inflamed. On children with darker skin, the inflammation might look brown, purple or grey. On children with lighter skin, the inflammation might look red. The skin might also be swollen, hot, tender and painful.
A blister with pus can form next to the nail. Rarely, your child might get a fever and have difficulty moving their finger or toe.
Bacterial and viral infections affect the fingernails more often than the toenails.
Does your child need to see a doctor about toenail infection or fingernail infection?
Yes. Take your child to your GP if your child has any of the symptoms described above, especially if there’s pus around your child’s toenail or fingernail, or your child is in pain.
It’s also important to see your GP if your child keeps getting nail infections. This might be a sign of an underlying illness.
Treatment for toenail infection or fingernail infection
For fungal nail infections, your GP will prescribe antifungal creams, solutions or tablets. Your GP might take a clipping of the nail before treatment starts to check that the fungus will respond to treatment.
For mild bacterial or viral infections with no pus, clean the affected finger or toe with an antiseptic solution. If your GP has prescribed an antibiotic cream, put it on the affected area.
When there’s pus around the nail, your child will probably need oral antibiotics from your GP. The GP might also want to drain the pus from the nail area .
Try to keep the infected area clean. Your GP might tell you to cover the area with a basic dressing, which you can get from a pharmacy.
Putting something warm on the area might help if your child is in pain. You could try a heat pack. You can also give your child pain medicine like paracetamol or ibuprofen according to the directions on the packet.
Children with a severe bacterial infection might need antibiotics directly into a vein through a drip and the nail might need to be removed.
After you’ve touched or dressed your child’s nail infection, you should always wash your hands thoroughly.
Preventing toenail infection or fingernail infection
To prevent fingernail and toenail infection, your child should avoid:
- biting or pulling off broken nails or hangnails
- sucking their fingers or toes
- trimming their nails too hard or close.
Your child should also:
- Dry their hands and feet properly if they get wet or sweaty.
- See your GP or a podiatrist if they get an ingrown toenail.
If your child has diabetes, well-controlled blood sugar levels will help to prevent infections.