Nail fungus (onychomycosis) attacks your toenails through small cuts in the skin around your nail or through the opening between your nail and nail bed. It can lead to a change to the nail texture, thickening, discomfort, and a foul smell. Your toenails will eventually become swollen and painful.
An infection could lead to a severe problem if you have a weak immune system or diabetes. If you have complications, then you need to find the best treatment for toenail fungus. Early treatment yields the best and fastest results. Unfortunately, a fungal nail infection won’t clear up on its own.
This guide will look at how and why toenail fungus hurts so much before exploring ways to ease the pain and get rid of a painful toenail fungus infection for good.
Table of Contents:
- 1 Can Toenail Fungus Cause Pain and Swelling?
- 2 Toenail Fungus Health Problems
- 3 Symptoms of Toenail Fungus
- 4 How to Relieve Pain from Toenail Fungus
Can Toenail Fungus Cause Pain and Swelling?
Toenail fungus may not cause much, if any, discomfort at the beginning stages. But, allowing toenail fungus to go unchecked can lead to considerable pain and discomfort.
Toenail fungus hurts when the nail becomes very thick and misshapen. The large size of the toenails can make it difficult to stand or walk while wearing shoes. Because the toes are so cramped, the nails are pushed back inwards. This can cause them to cut into the skin or rub it and leave it inflamed.
The infection in the nails can spread to other parts of the body, specifically other nails. It can also result in athlete’s foot (ringworm of the foot). It is characterized by itchy feet and cracked red skin.
Toenail Fungus Health Problems
The problems only get worse, especially if there are other issues as well as the baseline foot, toe, and nail fungus. Let’s explore some of the complications that can arise from a fungal infection.
Toenail fungus can spread to the skin and cause cracking. Bacteria can make their way into these small cracks and turn the skin red and tender. Swelling can also occur, and the only way that this condition can be treated is via antibiotics.
While red, cracked and tender skin can be annoying, the more serious problems that can come from it are far more alarming. Cellulitis can spread to the bloodstream.
This can cause the wound to become septic, which is potentially fatal. This can all begin with a simple nail infection. That’s why treating these kinds of infections is of the utmost importance.
Toenails that are infected with various kinds of fungus can potentially separate from the nail bed. This causes the nail to be far looser than if it was correctly attached. If this is the case, the nail can cause severe pain if it catches on something.
Sometimes, stronger treatments may be required. The most extreme example is the complete removal of the nail during a procedure called an avulsion. Other times, the nail is destroyed and removed in a procedure called a matrixectomy.
This destroys the place from which the nail grows (the growing center, or matrix). This can be done via surgery or using chemicals, and the nail will never grow back if a matrixectomy is used. This is only done if the infection cannot be corrected.
Symptoms of Toenail Fungus
About half of all adults over the age of 70 have a fungal infection in their toenails. These infections can cause the entire nail to become yellow in color, or it can just cause yellow spots. Sometimes, the nail develops white patches or, on more rare occasions, turns black.
The cause tends to be dermatophytes. They eat keratin to grow, and keratin is a primary ingredient in skin and toenails, making them ideal breeding grounds for this kind of fungus.
Some medical conditions make it easier to catch this fungus, including diabetes, peripheral vascular disease or other various autoimmune diseases. These cause a loss of lower circulation in the legs and feet, making fungi more likely to grow.
Here are the most common symptoms:
- Nails become thickened and discolored, as well as brittle and crumbly.
- Their shape will become distorted, and debris will build up underneath the nails, causing them to be dark yellow or brown.
- The infection produces an unpleasant odor.
If you experience all three of these symptoms, then it’s likely that you have a fungal infection- and it’s about time that you did something to stop the pain.
How to Relieve Pain from Toenail Fungus
Most of the things that you do to stop the pain correlate strongly with getting rid of toenail fungus. Let’s take a closer look at your options.
Treat It Like Any Other Injury
This involves treating it like a cut, scrape or bruise. After all, your toenail is physically damaged. You can take care of it like you would another wound.
Here’s how you can immediately reduce pain and treat your infection:
- Make sure you clear away any debris. Toenail fungal infections produce a lot of debris and buildup. This is from dead skin and keratin that the infection ‘eats.’ This debris will get caught underneath your nail, around the sides of your nail, and generally around the area. This spreads the infection, so it’s crucial that you clean it away regularly.
- Sterilize the wound. Any open wound can become infected with bacteria. So, make sure that any open wound is sterilized. Using a sterilizing agent will kill off some of the fungal spores.
- Wrap it in a breathable bandage. If your nail is continually getting caught on things, dress it. A bandage can prevent anything from aggravating your symptoms, and chipping away further at your nail. Allow your feet to breathe as much as possible when you’re not at work.
- Change the dressing regularly. Since fungal infections like moist conditions, you must change the dressing on your infection frequently.
Wear Shoes That Aren’t Tight
Shoes that are too tight put pressure on the infected toenails. This can be incredibly painful, especially over the course of a long day. Wearing overly tight shoes can cause ‘toenail trauma,’ where the nail cuts into the skin instead of growing straight out.
It’s vital to counteract this problem by wearing looser-fitting shoes. Slip-on shoes and sandals are better options than any shoe that squashes the toes together, like high heels.
Consider the following points:
- You may find it best to buy new shoes. There are shoes designed for people with wider feet, which may enhance your level of comfort.
- Don’t wear socks that are too bulky, such as winter socks. Your toes will have less room to move inside your shoe.
- Tight socks can make the pain worse by putting extra pressure on the toes. Spend more time wearing thin, breathable socks for sweaty feet.
Keep Nails Trimmed Properly
Keeping your nails trimmed short is good hygienic practice whether you have a fungal infection or not. If your toe is infected, not doing so can also cause you additional pain.
Long jagged toenails will catch on your socks and shoes. This will hasten the progress of the infection, and make your pain a lot worse.
As the nail gets thicker, properly trimming becomes difficult. Buy your own thick toenail cutters – don’t share them with others.
Here’s a quick guide to trimming your nails at different stages of the condition.
- Early stages: If your fungal infection is in the early stages, it should still be relatively easy to trim your nail. The most important thing to do is keep your clippers sterilized so that you don’t spread the infection further, or to somebody else.
- If your nail is crumbling: Crumbly nails make trimming a real task. However, it can still be done if you go slowly. Cut straight across from one side to the other, a little at a time. Cutting bit by bit will prevent splits and cracks from forming.
- If your nail is thick: If your nail is very thick, this can make clipping them nigh on impossible. You can buy heavy-duty clippers online that can get through the thickest nail. If this is the case, you may also want to buy nail softening cream.
Apply a Numbing Cream
You may benefit from a pain-numbing cream. There are many different kinds available:
- Bengay is a cream made with three active natural ingredients: camphor, methyl salicylate, and menthol. Methyl salicylate warms an area up (like Deep Heat) whereas menthol cools it down. Together they create a unique sensation that overrides pain. Because of the nature of the gel, it also penetrates down beneath the skin and nail.
- Lidocaine is a local anesthetic, which is an active ingredient of many creams.
- Benzocaine is the most rapid pain relief cream. It works almost immediately once applied.
- Topricin is a natural alternative that contains both belladonna and echinacea.
Use Tea Tree Oil
Tea tree oil is the perfect choice for treating the fungus under your toenail. It provides a similar cooling sensation to menthol when applied to the skin. This makes it a quality alternative to many menthol-based creams and gels.
The main benefit of using tea tree oil is that it’s also naturally antifungal. When you apply it to a fungal spore, the spore shrivels up and dies.
However, since fungal infections lie deep in the nail, this can take a long time. You have to be prepared to use tea tree oil for months if you want to get rid of fungus for good.
If you want to use tea tree oil for nail fungus, follow this guide:
- Clean and disinfect the area before applying anything to it.
- With a potent oil like tea tree oil, you should generally dilute it. Whether you dilute it or not, do a patch test first. You should apply a small amount to an unimportant patch of skin and wait a day to see if you experience an allergic reaction.
Apply two or three times daily and allow the oil to air dry. If you want an over-the-counter alternative, we recommend the Purely Northwest Toenail Fungus System. This will enable you to attack the fungus with a system that works in three different ways.
Treating your pain can be achieved with numbing cream. It can provide relief for hours from toenail fungus and toe pain. But, if you want a real solution, you should look to treat the condition.