Podiatrist Toronto, ON Sheldon H. Nadal D.P.M.
586 Eglinton Avenue E. Suite 501 Toronto, Ontario M4P1P2
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Toenail infection: Causes, symptoms and treatment

Toenail infection: Causes, symptoms and treatment 

A toenail infection may seem like a minor nuisance, but it can become serious, especially if you have an autoimmune disorder or diabetes. A toenail infection may develop from fungus or bacteria. A pathogen may get under the nail due to an ingrown toenail or break in the skin.

Most toenail infections are successfully treated at home. Below is more information on the causes, treatments, and prevention of toenail infections.


Any time the skin near the toe is punctured from a wound or sore, it can become infected if bacteria enter. Most of the time, your immune system goes to work to prevent an infection. But in some cases, an infection may develop.

Below are possible causes of toenail infections.

Cutting the toenail too short: Cutting the toenail too short can create a raw spot on the skin around the nail, which can allow bacteria to get into the body and cause an infection.

Sunburn: When you think of a sunburn, you might not consider your feet are at risk. But the skin on the top of your feet can easily burn. Some people may also forget to put sunscreen on their feet. Any type of injury to the outermost layer of the skin, such as sunburn, can compromise the skin around the toes and lead to an infection.

Walking around barefoot: If you walk around barefoot often, you may be at higher risk for picking up a toenail infection. Bacteria and fungus can harbor anywhere. Fungus often thrives in a moist environment, such as a public pool.

Ingrown toenail: In some cases, the nail can grow into the skin on the side of the toe. When this occurs, it is called an ingrown toenail. Not all ingrown nails become infected. But the nail may puncture the skin, which allows bacteria to enter, leading to an infection. 

Injury to the toe: If you injure your toe, it can push the nail into the tissue around the toe. The open skin may become infected.


Although any one of your toes can become infected, it most commonly occurs in the big toe. Symptoms of an infection may vary in severity but often start out mild. Toenail infection symptoms may include the following:

  • Redness of the skin around the nail
  • Pain
  • Swelling around the nail
  • Warmth to the touch
  • Foul smell
  • Cracked, yellowing nails
  • Pus-filled abscess
  • Fever (in severe cases when the infection has spread)


You should not ignore a toenail infection. Pay attention to the warning signs to avoid it from becoming worse. Most people can treat a toenail infection at home. The type of treatment recommended may depend on the cause of the infection. Consider the following treatments:

Soak the foot: To ease discomfort, soak the foot in warm water for about 15 minutes several times a day.

Consider an antibiotic ointment: If you have signs of mild toenail infection, applying an antibiotic cream or ointment might be helpful. Antibiotic creams can be purchased over the counter.

Wear properly fitted shoes: Shoes that are too tight may squish your toes and can cause them to push up against each other. The friction may irritate the skin around the toes and lead to breaks in the skin.

See a foot specialist: If you have a toenail infection that does not get better in a few days or is very painful, see a foot specialist.


Even if you have good hygiene, microorganisms that can lead to a toenail infection can be anywhere. But there are several things you can do to reduce your risk of developing a toenail infection, such as the following:

  • Keep your toenails trimmed.
  • Wash your feet daily with soap and water.
  • Change your socks daily.
  • Avoid walking around barefoot in public swimming pools or gym showers.
  • Do not wear shoes that are too tight.
  • When going for a pedicure, be sure to go to a reputable and professional establishment.
  • Keep the skin around the toes undamaged as much as possible.

If you have any questions about toenail infections or would like to schedule an appointment, please contact Podiatrist Sheldon Nadal, D.P.M at the Bayview Eglinton Podiatry Clinic in Toronto.



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