What Happens if Toenail Fungus Is Not Treated

What Happens if Toenail Fungus Is Not Treated?

Table of Contents

If toenail fungus is left untreated, it can lead to various complications and worsen over time. Here are some potential consequences of untreated toenail fungus:

  1. Nail Damage: As the fungal infection progresses, it can cause the affected toenail to become thick, brittle, and discolored. The nail may develop a yellow, brown, or white discoloration, and it may become crumbly or ragged. In severe cases, the nail may lift from the nail bed or even separate completely.
  2. Pain and Discomfort: Untreated toenail fungus can cause pain and discomfort. The thickened, distorted nails can press against the surrounding skin, leading to irritation, inflammation, and soreness. Walking or wearing shoes may become painful.
  3. Spreading of the Infection: Toenail fungus is contagious, and if left untreated, it can spread to other toenails, fingernails, or even to other people. Fungal spores can be shed and transferred through direct contact or shared items such as towels, socks, or nail clippers.
  4. Secondary Infections: When the integrity of the nail and surrounding skin is compromised due to fungal infection, it becomes more susceptible to secondary bacterial infections. This can lead to additional symptoms such as increased redness, swelling, pus formation, and heightened pain.
  5. Chronic Fungal Infection: Without intervention, toenail fungus can become a chronic condition, persisting for months or even years. Chronic fungal infections are often more challenging to treat and may require more aggressive treatment approaches.
  6. Social and Psychological Impact: The appearance of discolored, thickened nails can be embarrassing and affect an individual’s self-esteem. It may lead to social discomfort, self-consciousness, and avoidance of activities that expose the affected nails, such as swimming or wearing open-toe shoes.

Given the potential complications of untreated toenail fungus, it is important to seek medical attention if you suspect you have a fungal infection. A healthcare professional can diagnose the condition, provide appropriate treatment options, and help prevent further progression and spread of the infection. Treatment may include topical or oral antifungal medications, nail debridement, laser therapy, or, in severe cases, surgical removal of the nail.

What Is Toenail Fungus?

Toenail fungus is a common fungal nail infection that occurs when fungi get between the toenail and the tissue under the nail, known as the nail bed. The condition usually develops when there is a cut or an injury to your toe. In 90% of cases, dermatophytes cause the infection – when it’s a dermatophyte, the condition is called tinea unguium, or onychomycosis. Dermatophyte is a type of fungus that requires keratin to grow – keratin is the main material that makes the nails, and it’s what makes them hard.

What Are the Symptoms of Fungus on the Toenail?

Toenail fungus can change your nail completely. It’s not painful, but it often poses a cosmetic problem because it makes the nails look unpleasant. They often change in color – the nails can become white, brown, or even yellow. They become thicker and change shape, or they can become easily breakable. In some cases, the nail can even separate from the nail bed. 

Nail fungi prefer dark, warm, and moist places. For example, you may get fungi from walking around the swimming pool or using a locker room in a gym. Also, walking barefoot in a public area is a risk factor. Toenail fungus can spread to other areas of the body, but it rarely does – the chances are that it will remain localized on the toenail or just spread to other toenails and nearby skin. The chances of getting a fungal toenail infection increase with age – it’s estimated that 50% of people older than 70 have this condition. 

How to Know You Have Fungus on the Toenail?

If you notice any of the above-mentioned changes in your nails, you may have a toenail fungal infection. Still, this can’t be said for sure simply by looking at the nail, so you will have to go visit your doctor, who will be able to take a sample of your nail and send it to the lab for testing. The initial test is usually taking a sample from underneath the nail and viewing it under a microscope. If this is negative, a scraping of your nail will be sent to the lab to be tested – the lab will check to see if the fungus grows out in culture. 

When Should You See the Doctor?

In some cases, toenail fungal infection isn’t a problem for a patient – it doesn’t hurt, and it’s only a change in the nail’s appearance. Some people decide that they don’t want to bother with treatment – but is this a good idea? 

Although chances are nothing dangerous will happen to you if you decide not to deal with this problem, the fact is that your nail will become permanently damaged if you choose to ignore this infection. So, it’s up to you to decide if you want to start treatment. If you do, we suggest doing that sooner rather than later – reach out to your doctor if you suspect that you might have this kind of infection on your toenail. 

Doctor removing an infected toenail

What Are the Treatments for Toenail Fungus?

The treatment options for toenail fungus (onychomycosis) can vary depending on the severity of the infection and individual circumstances. Here are some common treatments for toenail fungus:

  1. Topical Antifungal Medications: Over-the-counter or prescription-strength antifungal creams, lotions, or nail lacquers can be applied directly to the affected nail. These medications work by killing or inhibiting the growth of the fungus. It’s important to follow the instructions and apply the medication consistently for the prescribed duration.
  2. Oral Antifungal Medications: In more severe or stubborn cases, oral antifungal medications may be prescribed. These medications, such as terbinafine or itraconazole, are taken by mouth and work systemically to eradicate the fungal infection. Oral antifungals are typically taken for a few months and require periodic monitoring of liver function.
  3. Nail Debridement: Trimming, filing, or debriding the infected nail can help reduce the thickness and improve the effectiveness of topical or oral antifungal treatments. This can be done by a healthcare professional or as part of a self-care routine.
  4. Laser Therapy: Laser treatment is a non-invasive option that uses focused laser beams to target and destroy the fungus. It can penetrate the nail without causing damage and has shown promising results in treating toenail fungus. Multiple sessions may be required for optimal outcomes.
  5. Surgical Nail Removal: In severe cases or when other treatments have been ineffective, surgical removal of the infected nail may be considered. This allows for direct application of antifungal medication to the nail bed or allows a new healthy nail to grow.
  6. Combination Therapy: Some cases of toenail fungus may require a combination of treatments. This could involve a combination of topical and oral antifungal medications, along with nail debridement or laser therapy.

In addition to these treatments, it’s important to practice good foot hygiene and take preventive measures to avoid reinfection. This includes keeping the feet clean and dry, wearing breathable socks and shoes, avoiding sharing personal items, regularly disinfecting footwear, and using antifungal sprays or powders.

It’s recommended to consult with a healthcare professional, such as a dermatologist or podiatrist, to determine the most appropriate treatment for your specific situation. They can provide a proper diagnosis, recommend suitable treatment options, and guide you through the recovery process.

Consult Your Doctor in Miami About the Treatment ASAP

If you think you may have this condition, be sure to consult with your doctor as soon as possible. Of course, you want only the best medical professionals to help you – and that’s exactly why you should reach out to our Luxe Foot Surgery clinic. Our team will be more than happy to help you and answer all your questions. Contact us to schedule your free first consultation – we’re looking forward to seeing you at your appointment.

FAQ

Can Toenail Fungus Cause Serious Problems?

Toenail fungus usually doesn’t cause serious problems, but it can. The infection can spread to other parts of the foot, the groin area, or even the scalp. 

Can Toenail Fungus Get Into Your Bloodstream?

No, toenail fungus infection won’t spread to your bloodstream, but it can spread to other parts of the body, like the groin area or the scalp. 

Is It OK to Live With Toenail Fungus?

You can easily live with toenail fungus if the nail appearance doesn’t bother you, but keep in mind that, after some time, your nail will become permanently damaged. 

Is It OK to Not Treat Toenail Fungus?

If you don’t want to treat toenail fungus, you can choose not to. It’s okay to live with it if it doesn’t bother you, but keep in mind that there is always a possibility that the infection can spread.

References 

  1. Cleveland Clinic. Toenail Fungus [Internet]. Cleveland Clinic. [Accessed on April 21, 2023]. Available from: https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/11303-toenail-fungus
  2. Mayo Clinic. Nail fungus [Internet]. Mayo Clinic. [Accessed on April 21, 2023]. Available from: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/nail-fungus/symptoms-causes/syc-20353294

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