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What Can Cause an Infected Toenail?

An infected toenail often stems from a fungal invasion or an ingrown nail, creating discomfort and potential complications. Warm, moist environments are breeding grounds for such infections. Proper foot hygiene and footwear choices play crucial roles in prevention. Wondering how to spot and treat these pesky infections? Discover the signs and solutions as we explore the intricacies of toenail health.
Madeleine A.
Madeleine A.

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.

Healthy toenails.
Healthy toenails.

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.

Injuries to toenails can lead to infections.
Injuries to toenails can lead to infections.

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.

Wearing shoes that are too tight can lead to a toenail infection.
Wearing shoes that are too tight can lead to a toenail infection.

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.

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Discussion Comments


Recently, both my big toes have been very red and swelled and when force is applied. They hurt a lot and also one toenail has a weird sticky yellowish/green substance coming out and the toenails have turned like a stained yellow color.


Our toes and toenails really are more sensitive and fragile than we realize. A small ingrown nail, a small injury, sweaty feet or unhygienic shoes can lead to infections.

I have an infected toenail right now due to injury and sweaty feet. I bruised my toe while playing sports and the side of the toenail broke off. I didn't take good care of it and I didn't change my socks frequently and now it's infected. I have to take antibiotics now, it's that bad!


@SarahGen-- You might have a fungal infection and an ingrown nail. I've actually had both at the same time.

I think fungal nail infections usually just cause yellow, thick nails that flake. Abscesses under the nail usually develop from ingrown nails. I had the same symptoms as you earlier this year. My doctor said that I have fungus and an ingrown nail, so I had to have both treated.

You should see a doctor though because I'm no expert. Regardless of what it is, it sounds like you need medical treatment right away.


Can a fungal nail infection cause pus?

I think I have a fungal infection because my toenail is yellow, but there is also an abscess with pus under the nail.

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    • Healthy toenails.
      By: Valua Vitaly
      Healthy toenails.
    • Injuries to toenails can lead to infections.
      By: johnnydao
      Injuries to toenails can lead to infections.
    • Wearing shoes that are too tight can lead to a toenail infection.
      By: adam88xx
      Wearing shoes that are too tight can lead to a toenail infection.