A foot infection can occur after an injury. Bacteria can get into a wound, such as a cut or a skin crack, and cause an infection. Sometimes the infection can form into an abscess.
An infected foot is often painful and can make it difficult to walk. Athlete’s foot and toenail fungus are also common fungal foot infections. Certain medical conditions, such as diabetes mellitus and ingrown toenails, can also increase your risk for foot infections.
An infected foot needs to be treated. Treatment will depend on the type of infection. Left untreated, a bacterial infection in the foot can lead to cellulitis, which is a potentially serious skin infection that can spread to your lymph nodes and bloodstream.
We’ll cover the possible causes and treatments of an infected foot, as well as the signs to watch for.
An infected foot may be painful. Swelling, discoloration, and the formation of a blister or ulcer are also possible. Symptoms of an infected foot depend on the cause.
Foot blisters are pockets of clear fluid that form under your skin. They’re very common and usually caused by friction from shoes that’re too tight.
Foot blisters can become infected and require immediate treatment. Warmth and redness around the blister are signs of infection. Instead of clear fluid, an infected foot blister may become filled with yellow or greenish pus. In severe cases of athlete’s foot, you may develop blisters on your foot or between your toes.
Change in skin color
An infected foot may change color. Redness is a common sign of infection. If you develop cellulitis, you may notice an expanding area of redness or streaks of redness from the affected area. White, flaky patches between toes are a common sign of athlete’s foot.
The skin around the affected area may feel warm to the touch if your foot is infected. This is a potential sign of cellulitis.
You may notice a bad smell coming from your foot. Athlete’s foot can cause a foul odor. You may also notice an odor if you have pus draining from a sore or the skin around an ingrown toenail.
Inflammation is a common symptom of an infected foot. Swelling from inflammation may be limited to the area of the infection, such as a toe, or it may spread to your entire foot. Swelling may also cause your skin to appear shiny or waxy.
Toenail fungus can cause your toenails to change color. At first, a fungal infection can cause a white or yellow spot under the tip of a toenail. As the infection worsens, your nails will become more discolored and may become thick or jagged.
Fever is common symptom of infection. A fever can also make you feel lethargic and cause body aches.
Pus or fluid drainage
You may notice draining of fluid or pus from your infected foot if you have an abscess. An infected ingrown toenail can cause a pus-filled pocket to form under your skin at the side of your toenail.
Foot infections usually develop after an injury or wound to the foot. Having certain medical conditions also increases your risk of foot infections.
Athlete’s foot is a common fungal infection. People whose feet are damp for prolonged periods, such as sweating in a pair of tight shoes all day or working in wet conditions, commonly get athlete’s foot.
It’s contagious and can be spread through contact on floors, towels, or clothing. It often begins between toes, but can spread to your toenails and other parts of your body. The most common symptom is itching, but it can also cause a reddish, scaly rash and flaking or blistering between toes.
People with diabetes have an increased risk for foot infections. Over time, high blood sugar can lead to damage in the skin, blood vessels, and nerves in the feet. This can make it difficult to feel minor abrasions and blisters, which can become ulcers and get infected.
Reduced blood flow caused by damage to the blood vessels from diabetes slows healing and increases the risk for serious foot infections. Foot infections due to diabetes have a higher risk for a poor prognosis and often lead to complications, sometimes requiring amputation.
Cuts, scrapes, and cracks in the skin on your feet can allow bacteria to enter and cause infection, including bacterial cellulitis.
An ingrown toenail occurs when the edge of a toenail grows into your skin. This can happen when you wear tight shoes or trim your nail into a curve instead of straight across. The skin around an ingrown toenail can become infected.
Plantar warts are small growths that form on the weight-bearing areas of your feet, such as your heels. They’re caused when the human papillomavirus enters your body through cracks or cuts in the skin of the bottom of your feet.
A plantar wart can look like a small, rough lesion on the bottom of your foot or a callus over a spot if the wart has grown inward. You may also notice black dots on the bottom of your feet.
Foot infection after surgery
A foot infection is a rare but possible complication of surgery, such as the fix of a fractured foot or ankle. The risk for developing a foot infection after surgery is less than 1 percent in healthy people, according to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons.
Antibiotics are routinely given before surgery to reduce the risk for infection. Having diabetes or other condition causing a weakened immune system increases your risk for postsurgical infection. Smoking also significantly increases your risk.
Most foot infections require treatment. Some minor infections can be treated at home using home or over-the-counter (OTC) treatments.
Minor infections, such as athlete’s foot or plantar warts can usually be treated at home. Plantar warts sometimes clear up over time without treatment, and some may be effectively treated using OTC wart treatments.
At-home treatment options include:
- antifungal cream or spray for athlete’s foot
- antifungal foot powder
- OTC salicylic acid for plantar warts
- antibiotic cream
- blister pads
- avoiding tight shoes
- keeping feet dry and cool
Medical or surgical treatment
Some foot infections, such as infected diabetic ulcers and bacterial cellulitis, require medical treatment. The type of treatment used will depend on the cause and severity of the infection.
Sometimes, you may require surgery to treat an infected foot. Surgical treatments can range from a minor in-office procedure to lift or remove a portion of an ingrown toenail to amputation of a foot or leg to treat a severe diabetic infection.
Available treatment options from your doctor for an infected foot can include:
A minor foot infection such as athlete’s foot or a plantar wart can often be treated at home, but other foot infections should be evaluated and treated by a doctor. You can book an appointment with a doctor in your area using our Healthline FindCare tool.
Prompt medical treatment can help you avoid complications. See a doctor if you are experiencing pain, redness, and warmth. If you notice red streaks or redness spreading out from a wound, bleeding, or have fever and chills, get emergency medical help.
Keep your feet clean and dry, and regularly inspect your feet for small abrasions and cracks to reduce your risk for foot infections. Early treatment can help you avoid complications.
See your doctor if your infection foot doesn’t improve with home treatment or if you have diabetes or a weakened immune system.