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What Happens To Untreated Toenail Fungus?

Toenail fungus also known as onychomycosis is a fungal nail infection that is often caused by dermatophyte fungi. This is fungi found within our bodies, which can easily burrow under your toenails in search of breeding ground. The infected toenails usually grow thick and become brittle and discolored. The infection starts at the tip of the nail and worsens as the fungus affects the deeper parts of your toenails. As a result, your toenails become itchy and slightly painful. At worse, part of or the whole nail can fall off. Toenail fungus needs treatment so as to kill the fungi and prevent further damage to your toenails or spread of the fungus to other toenails as well as to other people.[1]

What Happens To Untreated Toenail Fungus?

What Happens To Untreated Toenail Fungus?

Many individuals put off seeking treatment for toenail fungus as they deem the condition as less serious or just a cosmetic problem. Anyways, not getting onychomycosis treated could lead to further health complications other than disfigured toenails. If you have untreated toenail fungus, here is what you are likely to experience;

  • Foot pain as infected toenails become thick and distorted. The foot pain can be severe such that it becomes difficult to walk around in shoes.
  • Spreading of the fungus to the surrounding skin on your feet. As a result, you may develop athlete’s foot. If only one of your toenails was infected, let us say the big toe if you wear socks all day, the fungus can easily spread to your other toenails. This is because fungus thrives in warm, moist, and dark surroundings. When the fungus travels to your genitals, you could develop jock itch.
  • For people with diabetes and other chronic conditions which weaken the immune system, untreated toenail fungus could instigate the development of other diseases. For example, if the toenail fungus causes skin breakage, the toenail fungus could spread causing cellulitis. This is a condition characterized by swollen, red tender skin. Severe cases of cellulitis could be deadly if the infection enters into the bloodstream.
  • Infected toenails could fall off from their nail bed leading to nail loss. This is referred to as onycholysis. Toenail fungus makes nails lose which can lead to a part of or the entire nail falling off. Although the infection does not make your nails lose, if medical treatment does not seem effective, your nail(s) could be removed to enhance better treatment of the fungus. In cases of permanent removal of the toenail through a matrixectomy, the nail cannot grow back as the growing center of the nail at its base is destroyed.[2]

Important Facts That You Need To Know About Toenail Fungus

Onychomycosis (tinea unguium) is a fungal infection that affects both toenails and fingernails, but toenail fungus is more common. Common signs of toenail fungus include; thickening and discoloration of the toenail. As the infection continues to spread, one starts experiencing symptoms such as brittleness, hardening, and falling off of pieces of all of the toenail. Other symptoms you may experience are yellow or white patches on the nail bed, and scaly skin around the toenail, as well as a foul odor from the nail.

One of the best ways to prevent nail infections is by keeping your nails well-trimmed. Avoid over trimming the nails too short as it could cause tears on the skin, where fungus can easily penetrate into your nail bed. Adding to that, toenail fungus is highly contagious, so you should not share your nail clippers with others as they could also develop the condition. Also, if you go to any public place such as a nail salon, the gym or public swimming pool be cautious as the fungus could be lurking around from people infected with the fungus.

Individuals who are susceptible to toenail fungus are those with a family history of the condition, those with weakened immune systems (such as diabetic people), smokers, and older people. Toenail fungus can be treated using antifungal oral treatments such as Sporanox and Lamisil and topical treatments (antifungal creams) for less severe cases. Alternatively, you can treat toenail fungus at home with vinegar – either applying it directly on the affected toenails or a vinegar bath.[3]


The early symptom of nail fungal infection is the change in nail appearances such as discoloration and thickening. Untreated toenail fungus can lead to serious health issues such as jock itch, athlete’s foot, and cellulitis. Needless say, you could end up losing your nail. So, the earlier you note any signs of a toenail fungus infections, the earlier you can seek medication and get to save your toenail and prevent the spread of the fungus, which could lead to other conditions.


Also Read:

Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:May 24, 2022

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