What is Toe Fungus?

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  • Written By: Karyn Maier
  • Edited By: K. Pike
  • Last Modified Date: 14 April 2019
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Toe fungus is an infection caused by a form of tinea, or ringworm. Specifically, toe fungus usually begins with the invasion of tinea unguium, which first attacks the toenail. The infection is highly contagious and may quickly affect all of the toes of one or both feet. Toe fungus can be uncomfortable, unsightly, and lead to complications. Unfortunately, it can also be difficult to get rid of. Since fungi are capable of thriving without light, the feet can easily become a breeding ground for fungal infections. In addition, the wearing of socks and shoes for long periods of time provides an environment abundant in warmth and moisture. It is also speculated that since the toes may have less blood circulating than other parts of the body, it may be easier for toe fungus to escape detection by the immune system.


The first sign of a fungus is the unusual appearance of one or more toenails, often recognized by a small white or yellow spot on the nail surface. Known as onychomycosis, a nail infection associated with toe fungus is characterized by a thickening and yellowing of the nail. The nail may also be deformed and may begin to pull away from the nail bed. Often, there is pain in the toe and an unpleasant odor may be noticeable.There seems to be a genetic influence in terms of being susceptible to toe nail fungus since its occurrence tends to run in families. Toe and nail fungus are also seen more in men than women and affects more adults than children. In addition, older people may contract these fungus more readily due to an increased likelihood of impaired blood circulation.

Toe fungus causes are associated with certain risk factors too. For example, people who spend a lot of time walking barefoot around public locker rooms or pools may be at increased risk. Certain medical conditions may also increase vulnerability to contracting a toe or nail fungus, such as diabetes or an autoimmune disorder.Diagnosis of toe fungus is made by microscopic examination of scrapings from under the toenail. Since other skin conditions, such as psoriasis, can appear similar to toe fungus, a culture of the sample may be necessary. Once a diagnosis is confirmed, the clinician may suggest an over-the-counter topical toe nail fungus treatment, or a prescription medication such as LamisilĀ® (terbinafine). In addition, there are various toenail home remedies to consider, such as the topical application of diluted Australian tea tree essential oil. A double-blind, placebo-controlled study involving 60 nail infection patients aged 18-80 years experienced an 80 percent cure rate after 16 weeks of treatment with tea tree oil, without a recurrence of infection.



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