Toenail fungus, medically known as onychomycosis, may seem like a minor cosmetic problem, but it can have serious health consequences if left untreated. Dr. Peter Joseph, a podiatrist with Allegheny Health Network, warns that ignoring an infected toenail could lead to various complications.
One potential issue is foot pain. As the fungus progresses, the infected nail becomes thick and misshapen, causing discomfort and making it difficult to walk, especially when wearing shoes. Moreover, untreated toenail fungus can spread to the surrounding skin, leading to athlete’s foot, characterized by red, itchy, and cracked skin. The warm and moist environment within shoes provides an ideal breeding ground for the fungus to thrive and spread easily.
Even more concerning, a widespread infection can occur, posing a severe risk, especially for individuals with weakened immune systems like those with diabetes. If the fungus penetrates the skin and causes cracks, it can lead to cellulitis, a potentially life-threatening bacterial skin infection. In severe cases, the infection can even enter the bloodstream, becoming deadly.
Toenails infected with fungus may also separate from the nail bed, a condition called onycholysis. In such cases, the affected portion of the nail may need to be removed. In some instances, if traditional treatments fail, the entire nail may require avulsion or a more permanent removal procedure called a matrixectomy, which destroys the nail’s growing center at the base.
Recognizing the importance of seeking medical attention for toenail fungal infections, Dr. Joseph advises seeing a doctor if there is suspicion of an infection. A small sample of the toenail may be analyzed to confirm the presence of the fungus. Once diagnosed, treatment options include oral or topical antifungal medications, which are generally well-tolerated with minimal side effects.
For minor cases that don’t cause pain, some doctors may opt for a wait-and-see approach, monitoring the infected nail over time. Although the fungus is unlikely to go away on its own, it may not worsen. In such cases, a small dose of medication can be prescribed to address cosmetic concerns.
The key takeaway from this information is that toenail fungus should not be ignored. Early diagnosis and appropriate treatment can prevent complications, alleviate discomfort, and maintain healthy feet. So, if you suspect a toenail fungal infection, do not hesitate to seek professional help from a healthcare provider.