Nail Infection – Bacterial or Fungal? Symptoms and Fast Treatment

Overview of Nail Infection

Infections can affect any part of your skin, hair or nails. In the same way, your nails can also get infected by pathogenic bacteria or fungus. Nail infection is not a serious condition, but it can be rather painful and longterm. Nail infection is a contagious condition. It can contaminate other nails, fingers and also to other limbs. You will have to maintain proper hygiene measures to prevent the infection from spreading. The infection may take up to 6 weeks to cure completely.

nail infection - symptoms, causes, and treatment

Infection of the toenails is more common than fingernail infections. Most infections of toenails are fungal infections. Fungus finds optimum growth condition – moisture, and warmth in feet who wear an unclean shoe for longer hours.

Nail infection commonly affects the middle age people and infants. However, if you are maintaining proper hygiene or wear dirty, unventilated shoes, you can get the infection at any age.

  1. Symptoms
  2. Causes
  3. Prevention
  4. Home Remedies
  5. Treatment Options
  6. Bottomline
  7. Patients Queries
  8. Reference


In general, the visible signs and symptoms of both bacterial and fungal nail infection are the same. However, a doctor upon diagnosis can confirm the actual cause of the infection. An infected nail commonly shows these symptoms:

symptoms of nail infection

  • Paling and yellowness of the nails
  • Scaling of nails (Subungual Hyperkeratosis)
  • Crumbling or inward folding at the corner of the nail
  • White spots or faded spots on the nail
  • Proximal onychomycosis which means a yellow spot at the bottom of the nail
  • Flaking and brittle nails
  • Smell or odor coming from the nail
  • Thickening of nail
  • Nail leaving the finger even nail falling off the finger
  • Mucuos/pus-filled nails


As discussed above, nail infection can be caused either by fungus or bacteria. Let’s take a detailed look at causes of the infection:

Fungal Nail Infection

The fungus is always present in our nails. It can come from various things we touch, dirty shoes and socks and many other things. The infection occurs when the amount of Fungus grows out of proportion and starts to affect the health of nail. Fungal infection on the nail is also called as Onychomycosis or Tinea Unguium.

The fungus grows on warm and moist places, so the shoe with less ventilation provides a breeding ground for them. Hence, fungal infections commonly occur on toes. Overgrowth of infection can lead to serious conditions such as ringworm, athlete’s foot or jock itch. This fungus is also contagious. If you came in contact with someone who has a fungal infection, you can also catch the fungus.

nail infections

Bacterial Nail Infection

Similar to the fungus, bacteria is also omnipresent. The infection on the nails is caused by the Staphylococcus bacteria present in our skin. This condition is medically known as Paronychia. The risk of bacterial infection increases in case the nail is physically damaged. Apart from this, sometimes having a fungal infection can also trigger the growth of bacteria and cause an infection. Chemical irritants, detergents, bad habit of nail biting and sucking fingers can also trigger the bacterial infection.


The first step to prevent getting an infection is to maintain proper hygiene. Furthermore, you can follow the below step to prevent the infection:

  1. Make sure to always wear clean washed socks.
  2. Wear shoes that have proper ventilation.
  3. Keep your nails clean. Wash then regularly while bathing. An old toothbrush can be a good tool to clean your nails.
  4. Avoid using oil-based moisturizing lotion when you have infections. Fungus feeds on oils and it can grow the infection worse.
  5. If you visit parlor for manicure and pedicure ask the staff if their tools are disinfected or not. Use disinfected tools only.
  6. Avoid using harsh chemical filled detergents and dish soap as they can irritate and trigger an infection.
  7. Use a good quality hand sanitizer to clean your fingers.
  8. Wash your hands and feet twice every day.
  9. Avoid touching the infected nails.
  10. Make sure to dry your fingers and toes after your bath.
  11. Avoid going out barefoot in the toilet.

nail infection remedies

Home Remedies

If you start to browse the internet searching for “Home Remedies for Nail Infection“, you will get thousands of results. However, none of those claimed remedies are medically tested or approved. Here, we have enlisted 5 home remedies that are capable to reduce few symptoms of infection and curb the spread, but they are not capable of curing the infection. You can use these remedies for quick relief, but not as a permanent treatment of the infections. Below are those remedies:

1. Vicks VapoRub

Well, Vicks Vaporub is only intended to treat coughs, the ingredients present in it does have antimicrobial properties. According to a medical study done in 2011, Eucalyptus oil and Camphor present in Vicks, have shown ‘Positive Effects’ in treating the symptoms of nail infection. You can a apply a little amount of Vicks Vaporub on your infected nail, twice a day.

2. Tea Tree Oil

The oil reportedly has both antibiotic and antifungal properties. To use this, first clean your finger with rubbing alcohol and let your finger dry completely. Dilute the Tea tree oil by mixing with Olive oil in equal proportions. Apply a drop of this mix on the infected nail. You may feel a slight tingling sensation. After 10 to 15 minutes, wipe off the oil from your nail and wash your nail.

3. Baking Soda (not Baking Powder)

Fungus growth flourishes in the acidic atmosphere, created around nails while we sweat. Baking soda is one of the best alkalizing agents to cure this condition. To use baking soda for fungal infections, you have to mix it with Borax (Sodium Borate). They both come in powdered form. Mix equal amount of both Borax and baking soda, add few drops of water to make a thick paste. Apply this paste on the infected nail. Borax also contains fungicidal properties. Using the paste twice a day will reduce the symptoms of infection.

4. Probiotics

In most cases, an infection is the result of an imbalance in flora between good and bad microbes in the body. Probiotics contain a load of healthy gut bacterias. These healthy microbes control the growth of pathogenic fungi and harmful bacteria, thus control the infection. Furthermore, the lactobacilli present commonly in all probiotics supplements is highly capable in fighting fungal infections.

5. Turmeric

Turmeric is a very popular home remedy and widely used spice. It has many amazing properties. Turmeric is used as an ointment for a variety of skin condition. It has powerful antiseptic properties. Using turmeric as a dusting powder can relieve some symptoms of the infection.

6. Apple Cider Vinegar

Claimed to be the best home remedy for toenail fungus, Apple Cider Vinegar is used widely. To use it, fill a bucket with enough hot water you can soak your feet in. Now add 2 teaspoons of Apple Cider vinegar and Epsom salt in the water Keep your feet soaked in this water for 20 minutes. Then use a soft towel to dry your feet. Apple Cider Vinegar has antifungal properties.

Treatment Options

Oral Medications

For the treatment of nail infection, a doctor may prescribe you take an oral antibiotic or antifungal medicines.

For fungal infections, the doctor may prescribe to take medicines such as Gris-Peg (griseofulvin), Sporanox (itraconazole), Lamisil (terbinafine) or Diflucan (fluconazole).

Similarly, in case of bacterial infection, you may be prescribed to take antibiotics such as aspirin, clindamycin, clavulanic acid, or cephalexin.

Topical Medications

Depending on the severity of infection, a doctor may prescribe you topical creams, ointments or dusting powders. Qudriderm is one such multipurpose cream. It can be prescribed for the treatment of both fungal and bacterial nail infection. Candid-B is a dusting powder, commonly prescribed for the treatment of fungal infections.


Nail infection is not a serious medical condition and it can be treated easily with over the counter medications. However, if the infection is severe, you should consult a doctor immediately. Severe infection can lead to serious conditions such as falling off the nail, Athlete’s foot etc.

The infection is highly contagious and can spread to other body parts fast. Make sure to maintain proper hygiene. Also, follow all preventive measures you can to avoid getting the infection in the first place.

Patients Queries

Is nail infection contagious?
Yes. Most infections on nails are caused by pathogenic bacteria and fungus. This microbes are highly contagious and can easily transmit through various means.

Can I use Medicated lacquer (Nail Polish) while having a nail infection?
Yes. Medicated nail lacquers are a good option. However, the polish is not the treatment of infection. Medicated polishes are only capable of controlling symptoms of the infection, not killing the pathogenic microbes.

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