Most toenail infections are caused by fungus or bacteria; these agents cause different symptoms and require different treatments. That’s why it’s so important to get a proper diagnosis before starting any treatment for your infected toenail. Understanding the cause of your infected toenail is the first step in finding the right treatment and preventive measures to make sure it doesn’t come back in the future.
Fungus tends to grow in moist environments, which is why they represent a very common cause of infected toenails. You can easily develop a fungal infection if you don’t keep your feet and shoes dry and clean, and if you walk barefoot in wet or moist places such as gym showers or around the pool.
Symptoms of a fungal toenail infection include:
- Discoloration and/or black dots on the nail.
- Deformation, crumbling, or thickening of the nail.
- Itchy and flaky skin around the infected toenail.
- In severe cases, the infected toenail can become separated from the nail bed.
In most cases, fungal toenail infections clear up using a simple, over-the-counter antifungal ointment. Foot soaks using oregano oil and tea tree oil, or vinegar can be helpful, as long as you make sure to dry your feet afterwards. In more severe cases, Laser treatment or prescription antifungal medications might be needed.
It is very important to keep your feet and shoes dry both during and after the treatment to make sure the infection heals completely and to prevent it from reappearing.
When a toenail becomes infected by bacteria, the causes and symptoms are very different than those of a fungal infection. Bacterial infections tend to appear after repetitive or forceful trauma, and therefore, they are more common in athletes, dancers, or in patients who have additional risk factors, such as ingrown toenails.
In the early stages of a bacterial toenail infection, you’ll notice the tissue around your nail becomes red, swollen, and feels warm and tender to the touch. As the infection progresses, pus starts to form, and you’ll experience discharge or see pus-filled blisters around the infected toenail.
Bacterial infections don’t disappear on their own, and need antibiotic treatment. For mild, uncomplicated infections, topical antibiotic ointments might be enough to clear up the infection.
If the infection is more severe, your podiatrist might need to prescribe oral antibiotics and drain the pus; after this procedure, you must make sure to keep your toe wrapped with clean, sterile gauze which must be replaced every 24 hours. Also, keep in mind that you should always complete an antibiotic course once you have started taking it to avoid bacterial antibiotic resistance. You can also take over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications, such as ibuprofen, to relieve the pain and swelling.