Athlete’s foot appears as a scaly red rash on the bottoms or sides of the feet often accompanied by itching, dry or cracked skin, stinging, and odor. You can also have moist, raw skin between your toes. Though athlete’s foot is fairly easy to treat with over-the-counter anti-fungal creams or sprays, this foot fungus is quite contagious and may easily spread to your toenails.
Although treatment is usually sought for cosmetic reasons, nail fungus can be serious and should be treated. For example, if it is a severe infection, it can cause permanent damage to your nails. The infection can also spread beyond your nails, especially if you are in a high risk group, such as people with diabetes or impaired immune systems. High-risk people can develop cellulitis, a skin tissue infection, if toe fungus isn't treated.[4]
Readily available over-the-counter treatments work well for most nail-bed infections, especially early cases. An advanced toenail fungus infection may require a podiatrist’s intervention. To counteract a serious infection, medical professionals may utilize prescription topical medications, oral medications, and even laser therapy.  Some cases best respond to combination therapy.
Following effective treatment, recurrence is common (10–50%).[2] Nail fungus can be painful and cause permanent damage to nails. It may lead to other serious infections if the immune system is suppressed due to medication, diabetes or other conditions. The risk is most serious for people with diabetes and with immune systems weakened by leukemia or AIDS, or medication after organ transplant. Diabetics have vascular and nerve impairment, and are at risk of cellulitis, a potentially serious bacterial infection; any relatively minor injury to feet, including a nail fungal infection, can lead to more serious complications.[31] Infection of the bone is another rare complication.[6]
Nail infections occur more often in men than in women, and the infections are found in adults more often than in children. If you have family members who often get these types of fungal infections, you’re more likely to get them as well. Older adults are at the highest risk for getting fungal infections of the nails because they have poorer circulation and their nails grow more slowly and thicken as they age.
Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.
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