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An infected toenail can be caused by bacteria, fungus, or yeast. An ingrown toenail can cause significant tissue irritation and subsequent bacterial infection. Symptoms of an infected toenail include pain and swelling around the nail, redness, and pus formation. Nail changes can also occur resulting in abnormally shaped nails, color changes and detachment of the nails from the nail bed. Pain and sensitivity from an infected toenail can be so severe that the slightest pressure can cause excruciating pain.
Wearing shoes that are too tight is a common cause of an ingrown toenail and subsequent toenail infection. A toenail injury such as one sustained during running or playing sports can also contribute to a toenail infection. Improperly trimming of the toenails can contribute to a toenail infection as well. Those who have certain medical conditions, such as diabetes or circulatory problems, should have their toenails trimmed by a podiatrist to reduce the risk of infection and injury.
Treatment for a toenail infection includes soaking the foot in hot water a few times a day, which can greatly relieve pain and swelling. It can also draw out pus and wash away bacteria. Over-the-counter antibiotic ointments are often prescribed for an infected toenail, as are oral antibiotics. At the first sign of an infected toenail, the health care provider should be notified so he can evaluate the infection and recommend treatment.
Sometimes, the health care provider may need to remove a portion of the toenail that has grown into the tissue. He may also have to lance the affected area to drain the pus. For a toenail infection that is caused by a fungus, an anti-fungal medication is typically the treatment of choice. Although an infected toenail caused by a bacteria generally responds quickly to treatment, an infected toenail caused by a fungus might not respond for a few months.
Though complications from an infected toenail are rare, they can occur, and may include permanent changes in the structure or shape of the nail, abscess formation, and the risk of the infection spreading to other parts of the body. Systemic symptoms of a toenail infection can include fever and chills, joint pain, and red streaks near the infection site. When these symptoms occur, the health care provider can evaluate the potential seriousness of these symptoms and recommend appropriate treatment.