Neglecting toenail fungus, formally known as onychomycosis, can lead to severe health consequences, warns Dr. Peter Joseph, a podiatrist at Allegheny Health Network. Beyond being an aesthetic concern, untreated toenail fungus can cause foot discomfort, making walking challenging due to the thickening and misshaping of infected nails, especially while wearing shoes.
The warm, moist environment inside shoes provides an ideal breeding ground for the fungus, leading to athlete’s foot—a condition characterized by red, itchy, and cracked skin. Moreover, untreated toenail fungus can escalate into a widespread infection, posing a serious risk for individuals with compromised immune systems, such as those with diabetes. The fungus may penetrate the skin, causing cellulitis, a potentially fatal bacterial skin condition. In severe cases, the infection could enter the bloodstream, becoming life-threatening.
Onycholysis, where the toenail separates from the nail bed, is another potential consequence of toenail fungus. In some instances, removal of the damaged nail area may be necessary, and more invasive procedures like avulsion of the entire nail or matrix ectomy may be required if standard treatments prove ineffective.
Dr. Joseph emphasizes the importance of seeking medical care if there’s suspicion of a toenail fungal infection. Diagnosis involves analyzing a small toenail sample, and treatment options include oral or topically applied antifungal medications, which are generally well-tolerated. In cases where the infection is minor and doesn’t cause discomfort, a watchful waiting approach might be employed, with doctors monitoring the nail over time.
The key takeaway is that toenail fungus should not be ignored. Early diagnosis and effective treatment can prevent complications, discomfort, and maintain overall foot health. If there’s a suspicion of a toenail fungal infection, seeking professional assistance from a healthcare specialist is crucial.