What happens if you ignore the toenail fungal infection?


According to an infographic designed for nail fungus, almost 12% of the general adult population suffers from such an infection. The condition is more often diagnosed in the older population, with toenails being predominantly affected by fungal infections. As there are many serious conditions out there, not many people pay attention to the changes their toenails go through. If there is no pain, then the fungal infection will definitely be ignored. What happens if you ignore such an infection? Let’s see!

Walking becomes painful

When the toenail becomes infected, it begins to change its color, becoming yellow in the majority of the cases. However, as time passes, the infected toenails thicken and change their shape. Because of that, it is possible to experience intense pain, especially when wearing shoes and walking for a prolonged period of time. Walking on certain surfaces, such as those which are uneven, might prove out to be difficult and painful at the same time.

Infection can spread

In the situation that the toenail fungal infection is not treated, the infection will spread to the soft tissues. The most common situation is when the fungus infects the skin surrounding the toenails, as well as the soles, leading to athlete’s foot. The patient will then experience intense itchiness and redness, with the skin becoming thick and cracked.

There are a number of favoring factors, which can cause the toenail fungal infection to spread. For example, if you spend a lot of time wearing shoes and socks, the risk of the fungal infection spreading is higher. This is because there is nothing that the fungus loves more than a moist and dark environment. Add the characteristic sweating to the equation and you have the perfect recipe for a new infection.

If you are accustomed to putting on your underwear before your socks, you stand a high chance of the infection spreading to the genital area. This condition is known as the jock itch, being more often encountered in professional athletes. It causes similar symptoms, with redness and itchiness being common. The easiest way to prevent the fungus from reaching your genital area is to put your socks first.

Generalized infection is a possible matter

The toenail fungal infection is more common in people who suffer from systemic or chronic conditions, which reduce the strength of the immune system. For example, such infections are often diagnosed in people who suffer from diabetes. Left untreated, the fungus will cause the skin around the toenails to become cracked, which will favor the development of bacterial infections.

A serious and potentially life-threatening complication of toenail fungal infections is cellulitis. If such an infection occurs, the skin is really swollen, with redness and tenderness to the touch following subsequently. The condition requires immediate treatment with broad-spectrum antibiotics. In patients whose immune system is really down, the infection can enter into the bloodstream, leading to sepsis (high risk of death). So, you see, it’s not really something that you can or should ignore.

Nail loss as a consequence of ignored toenail fungal infections

The fungal microorganisms love a moist, warm and dark environment, often thriving in the space between the nail plate and bed. If the condition is not treated, the toenail can actually separate from its bed, a process which is known as onycholysis. The separation can be partial or total, requiring the surgical removal of the affected toenail.

It is possible that the toenail is removed, even if it doesn’t become loose. This generally occurs in the situation that the infection has failed to respond to oral or topical treatments. The procedure through which the entire nail is removed is known as avulsion; it will take several months, before the healthy nail grows back.

Another procedure, which is based on the permanent removal of the nail, is matrixectomy. However, as opposed to the avulsion, the nail is destroyed, either surgically or chemically, without the possibility of growing back. This procedure is reserved only for severe infections, with the patient suffering from pre-existent conditions.

Fungal paronychia, a potential complication of untreated toenail fungus

Fungal paronychia is a less common complication, which is common in those who present toenail fungus infections. If the treatment is delayed and the condition is ignored, the risk of developing such complications is even higher. What happens is that the skin around the toenails begins to swell, with redness and tenderness to the touch (in more severe cases, it can be painful to the touch). The condition can be further complicated, with an abscess forming in the area or the infection being transmitted to the bones or tendons. If the infection reaches the bloodstream, it can be life-threatening.

Other complications of untreated toenail fungal infections

Depending on the severity of the condition and the strength of the immune system, other complications can arise. Left untreated, the toenail fungal infection can advance to the point that it causes nerve damage in the area. It can affect the local blood circulation, especially in those who suffer from diabetes or various circulatory conditions. In certain cases, the toenail fungal infection can be so severe that it leads to foot ulcers, requiring aggressive treatment, in order to prevent life-threatening complications. However, all of these complications can be prevented, by getting treatment for the toenail fungal infection, as early as it is possible.

Final word

As you have seen, an untreated fungal infection can lead to serious health consequences. Upon noticing changes at the level of your toenails, it is essential to visit your dermatologist and get yourself treated. The sooner the treatment is started, the better the prognosis is going to be. Do not forget to address favoring factors as well. Change your socks and footwear on a regular basis, throwing out any worn out or tight-fitting shoes. Avoid sharing objects of personal hygiene with other people and maintain excellent foot hygiene, in order to keep the risk of toenail fungal infections down to a minimum.


About the Author John Campbell

As an athlete, John has suffered from plantar fasciitis and toenail fungus multiple times throughout his life. Having picked up some extensive knowledge on dealing with these and other foot health conditions, John has decided to bring more transparency and knowledge to the ofter considered un-popular niche of foot health.

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