Our Magic Valley Foot Doctors Detail the Possible Consequences of Ignoring Toenail Fungus

It’s a common misconception that toenail fungus is an annoying but inconsequential problem that impacts only the appearance of the nails. Unfortunately, there are significant long-term issues that arise from ignoring fungal toenails. At Canyon Foot + Ankle, we offer various treatment options for fungal toenails, because this condition won’t heal on its own. 

Causes of Toenail Fungus one-foot-with-toenail-fungus-one-without

Officially known as onychomycosis, this infection is caused by several different microscopic organisms called dermatophytes that thrive in warm, moist areas. The fungus is able to get under the nail through a small gap or minor nail or skin injury. There are many ways it spreads, including:

  • Sweaty socks and shoes
  • Sharing infected towels between multiple people
  • Contaminated nail clippers such as at a nail salon that doesn’t properly sanitize between customers
  • Walking barefoot on floors in gyms, locker rooms, pools, and other public spaces
  • Deformed nails

These microscopic fungi subsist on keratin, a protein that is abundant in skin, nails, and hair. 

Likely Risk Factors

Certain circumstances put you more at risk of developing a fungal toenail infection, such as: 

Fungal Toenails: Not Just a Cosmetic Issue

Toenail fungus makes toenails brittle, discolored, and tender—and creates an unpleasant odor. Highly contagious, untreated fungus doesn’t typically just stay in the nails, and often becomes a much more problematic issue. Here are some other conditions that frequently occur.

Toe and Foot Pain

As the fungus penetrates the nail matrix—the layers of cells at the base of your nail bed—this sometimes results in thickened and misshapen nails. When this happens, our patients often report that walking or wearing certain types of shoes is painful. An affected toenail might also separate from the nail bed, causing more pain and necessitating removal, and the nail may never grow back.

Athlete’s Foot

The fungus may also spread to the skin around the toe, causing you to be more prone to developing athlete’s foot, symptoms of which include:

  • An itchy, scaly rash
  • Peeling, cracked skin
  • Inflamed, discolored skin
  • Burning and stinging
  • Blisters

Jock Itch

Believe it or not, untreated toenail fungus can make you vulnerable to tinea cruris, also known as jock it. It causes symptoms similar to athlete’s foot but in the genital region. 


This is a skin condition caused by strep bacteria that typically occurs on just one side of the body. It’s rare that toenail fungus causes cellulitis, but people with compromised immune systems may be more susceptible. The condition usually develops in the lower extremities and may display:

  • Irritated skin that tends to expand
  • Swelling
  • Pain or tenderness
  • Warmth
  • Fever or chills
  • Skin dimpling
  • Blisters

While cellulitis is considered superficial, if it’s not treated promptly, it can spread to the lymph nodes and bloodstream and become life-threatening.

Canyon Foot + Ankle Treatments for Nail Fungus

You may have heard about various home remedies for toenail fungus. Our podiatrists don’t recommend going this route, as you mostly spend a lot of money on ineffective products. Instead, schedule an appointment in our Twin Falls or Burley clinics, where we’ll conduct a thorough examination and present you with various treatment options.

  • Oral antifungal medications are the most trusted and effective course of action for most cases. These are typically taken for around 6–12 weeks. 
  • When oral antifungal medications aren’t an option, the alternatives we suggest include topical medications and/or nail removal. 

While waiting for your feet to recover, you might be inclined to hide your feet inside some closed-toe shoes, because although the fungi may be killed, the damaged areas must still grow off and be replaced by clear and healthy nails. Though it might feel embarrassing, allowing your feet to breathe in sandals is likely to be more helpful to your recovery.

Preventing Onychomycosis

How can you avoid toenail fungus? Here are our top tips:

  • Wash your feet daily.
  • Take breaks from polishing. 
  • Keep nails trimmed short.
  • Wear shoes made from breathable materials like leather or canvas.
  • Choose natural fiber socks such as wool or cotton.
  • Change your socks and shoes frequently to avoid moisture buildup and rotate your shoes to let them dry completely. 
  • Use antifungal powders and sprays on feet and in shoes if your feet sweat a lot.
  • Wear sandals or shower shoes to protect your feet from fungus in gyms, locker rooms, pools, and other public places where it spreads.
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