Having a toe infection is no fun, especially if you’re on your feet a lot.
An infection can start small and build up to the point where you can’t ignore it any more.
Here’s what to look for and what you can do about it.
If your toe is infected, you’ll probably have one or more of these symptoms:
- redness or change in skin color
- a bad smell
- feeling hot to the touch
- a visible break in the skin
A toe infection can be caused by several different things, including:
- an injury
- another medical condition
- a microorganism
- the way your toenails naturally grow
Ingrown toenail infection
When the side of your toenail grows down into the skin of your toe, it’s said to be ingrown. This can be very painful.
Ingrown toenails can be caused by wearing shoes that are too tight, by cutting your toenails unevenly, or by injuring your foot. Some people also have toenails that naturally curve downward as they grow.
Feet yeast infection
Paronychia is a skin infection around your toenails. It’s caused by a type of yeast called Candida, but it’s usually accompanied by another germ, like a bacterium.
This type of infection causes the skin around your nails to become red and tender, and you may also develop blisters with pus in them.
Sometimes, your toenail may even come off.
If you have diabetes, the blood vessels and nerves in your toes may be damaged. This can lead to a toe infection that you may not be able to feel.
In extreme cases, an untended toe infection can become so severe that you may need to have your toe amputated.
Toe or toenail injury
If you stub your toe hard, you may drive the nail into the soft tissue surrounding it, which can cause it to become infected.
You can also create problems by trimming your nails too short near the edges, which can allow them to grow down into the fleshy part of your toe.
If you cut your nails so closely that you create a raw spot, this wound can also become infected.
Shoes that are too tight or too narrow can cause a whole host of foot problems, including infections.
A tight-fitting shoe can aggravate an ingrown toenail, and if you have diabetes, can create blisters or sores that can become seriously infected.
Feet that are dirty or exposed to trapped sweat or moisture for long periods of time can give bacteria and fungus a place to grow.
This fungal infection generally starts between your toes. Perspiration that lingers on your feet inside your shoes gives the fungus a moist place to grow.
Athlete’s foot can make your feet itch or burn. It appears as bright red, scaly patches, and may spread to other parts of your feet.
Athlete’s foot is contagious. You can get it by walking barefoot in locker rooms, using dirty towels, or wearing other people’s shoes.
Fungus can also affect your toenails. Toenail fungus generally begins as a white or yellow spot in your toenail, and spreads with time.
Eventually, your toenail may be completely discolored and become thick, cracked, or crumbly.
When it comes to dealing with toe infections, your best strategy is one of prevention.
Check your toes a few times each week. Check them daily if you have diabetes. Look between each toe, examine your toenails, and note if you see any abnormalities.
Cut your toenails straight across rather than on a curve to prevent the edges of the nail from becoming ingrown.
Avoid going barefoot, wear roomy shoes, and change your socks often. If your feet sweat profusely, you may want to dust them with cornstarch powder when getting dressed.
If you do get an infection, the best way to treat it depends on how serious it is and if you have other medical conditions that put you at special risk.
Based on the type of infection you have, a doctor may prescribe oral medications like antifungals or antibiotics.
You may also be given topical prescription creams or ointments.
In some cases, an infected or damaged toenail may need surgery.
For example, if you have a severe ingrown toenail, the physician may surgically remove the side of the nail that is growing down into the flesh.
Toe infection home treatment
You can treat athlete’s foot with antifungal sprays or creams available at your pharmacy. You can also check with a pharmacist about getting special padded socks that reduce the amount of moisture on your feet.
If home remedies aren’t working or your toe infection is getting worse, it’s definitely time for you to see a doctor.
Existing medical conditions can put you at even greater risk. It’s important to consult a physician right away if you have a weakened immune system or diabetes.
We take our toes for granted — until they start hurting.
You can keep your toes healthy and problem-free by:
- checking them often
- keeping your feet clean and free of moisture
- trimming your nails carefully
- wearing shoes that fit properly
- treating toe infections as soon as they arise