How to Tell the Difference Between Toenail Fungus and Injury

The toenails are the windows to your health. But if you’re not a physician, how can you make sense of your symptoms? That’s likely to be why you want to find out how to tell the difference between toenail fungus and injury, after all.

If you’ve never had toenail fungus before, you probably have no idea what it looks like. The same goes for toenail trauma. We will help you to distinguish between the two conditions. If your nails aren’t looking healthy—for instance if they’re the wrong color, the wrong texture or are breaking off—then it can often be a sign that you have a broader health issue. Fortunately, in the case of toenail fungus and physical damage, that’s not true.

This makes it easier for you to determine the cause and treatment of your condition. All you have to do is check our in-depth guide below. You should be able to find everything you need to know. First, we take a look at what exactly toenail fungus is, where it comes from, and how to treat it.

Then, just in case you’re not sure whether you are affected by fungus, we also examine what exactly toenail injury is like. Again, we cover the pathology, symptoms, and treatment of the condition before summarising exactly how you can tell the two apart.

Do I Have Toenail Fungus?

Toenail fungus is no joke. If you’ve never had a yellowing toenail fungus before, you might not appreciate how much it can affect your life. First of all, it’s embarrassing. If you care about your appearance, toenail fungus makes you feel self-conscious. Let’s say that you’re going to the beach: it might make you feel insecure walking around in flip-flops. The same goes for swimming in a public pool.

Worse, though, is that it can do severe damage to the nailbed if left untreated. If you don’t do anything about it, the problem keeps getting worse. It will not go away on its own! Not only will it spread to other toes, but the toenails will get thicker, more crumbly and more deformed. So, it’s best that you do something about it without delay.

What Causes Toenail Fungus?

There are four different kinds of toenail fungus. These are as follows:

  1. Distal subungual onychomycosis (DSO)
  2. White superficial onychomycosis (WSO)
  3. Candida onychomycosis
  4. Proximal subungual onychomycosis (PSO)

Toenail fungus gets worse as it spreads. Most cases develop so slowly that it may take months before you notice the first symptoms. If you leave it growing unchecked, it will keep getting progressively worse, deforming the nail almost beyond recognition.

Some strains develop quicker, but you won’t notice a change on a day-by-day basis.

What Does Toenail Fungus Look Like?

Toenail fungus is easy to self-diagnose. It has many symptoms that are easy to spot and will help you identify it.

Here are the vital signs that you may have a nail fungus:

  • Your toenail will be significantly thicker. Take a look at your fingernails: your toenails should be thicker, but not by that much.
  • Instead of the usual pink color, the fungus will make the nails turn white, yellow or a light brown.
  • The texture of your toenails will change. Instead of being pliable, toenail fungus will turn them brittle and ragged.
  • Your toenails may become disfigured in shape. They may curve slightly to the left or the right, especially if they begin to crumble.
  • You may also notice that toenail fungus causes more odor than usual.

These symptoms are classic signs of toenail fungus. You may experience some of them or all of them. For example, during the initial stage of toenail fungus, you may notice an odor, but your toenails won’t have begun to crumble away. In the later stages, if left untreated, you will notice your toenail gradually become darker and thicker.

How Do You Treat Toenail Fungus?

There are many treatments for toenail fungus: some are more effective than others and some are more natural than others. Which one of them you select depends on what’s more important to you.

Using an OTC Cream

OTC creams are simple and easy to use. Just rub the cream on the affected area to mitigate the symptoms of your condition, or to cure it completely. There is a huge variety of OTC creams. You can pick natural or pharmaceutical ones to suit your preference.

So, for example, there are proven treatments that you can use, such as Xenna Nonyx Nail Clarifying Gel. This is often prescribed by podiatrists. Toenail fungus has so many unfortunate side effects, ranging from odor to turning your nail yellow. Gels don’t just attack the fungus but tackle other symptoms like discoloration.

You might also want to try essential oils for toenail fungus. People recommend essential oils for all sorts of things—and they aren’t good for everything. But certain oils, especially tea tree oil, are antifungal. So, if you want to treat toenail fungus, a cream with an essential oil would work.

Using a Laser Treatment

If OTC creams or essential oils aren’t for you, you may prefer laser treatment for getting rid of toenail fungus. There are some really good reasons why you should consider it, although it isn’t a perfect solution.

First things first, it kills the fungus by heating it. Now, that doesn’t mean you’ll be burning your toes just to get rid of the fungus in your nails—that really would be cutting off your nose to spite your face. No, you don’t have to heat the fungus up too much to kill it. You may feel a slight sensation, and your nail bed will start to feel warm.

You can get the procedure performed by a doctor. It’s not cheap and it won’t be covered by your medical insurance. Alternatively, you can use an at-home treatment, such as the Nail Cleaning Laser Device. It’s a significantly more affordable option, but you may prefer to pay extra and see a doctor.

Home Remedies

There are many home remedies that people anecdotally claim can get rid of toenail fungus. In particular, several wellness sites recommend essential oils. While tea tree oil has been clinically proven to be antifungal and antiseptic, not all essential oils were created equal. We do like the Purely Northwest Toenail Fungus System, which utilizes the healing powers of tea tree oil.

Oregano oil, ozonized sunflower oil, and olive oil are other natural ‘solutions’ that people use. Apple cider vinegar is another, as are products which contain eucalyptus or menthol such as Vicks VapoRub and Listerine mouthwash.

Just by taking a quick look at reviews, it’s clear that they don’t work for everybody. Moreover, if you want to see results, you’re going to have to be prepared to keep at your remedy for months on end. They aren’t miracle cures. People tend to like them because they don’t have to spend any money.

What Is Toenail Injury?

Strictly speaking, toenail fungus is a kind of toenail injury. But generally, toenail injury refers to the result of blunt trauma to the toenail. Like blunt trauma to any other part of the body, you will be left with obvious marks which distinguishes it from other conditions. It should be fairly easy to spot the difference between trauma and fungus. At least, that’s the case if your injury is the result of blunt force.

The other kind of toenail injury is caused by repeated ‘trauma’. In this case, trauma is perhaps not the best word but is nevertheless the one used in medical settings. This kind of trauma is the result of shoes that do not fit properly. You might think that shoes that don’t fit are no real problem: they’re uncomfortable for the time being, but aren’t going to damage your toes or nails. Unfortunately, they can have a significant effect.

What Causes Toenail Trauma?

You can get toenail injuries in many ways. The first is blunt force trauma. This could be from anything: dropping something heavy on your toenail is the most common. You may also find that stubbing your toe particularly forcefully could result in a bruise.

Other toenail injuries may cause the nail to tear or be cut. This is especially the case if you drop something relatively sharp on your toe—the corner of a piece of furniture would be enough to cause this problem. Also, as mentioned above, your trauma may be the result of continued trauma which affects your nail over time.

Depending on the precise way in which you sustained your injury, your symptoms will vary.

What Does Toenail Trauma Look Like?

As we mentioned above, bruising is a common symptom of toenail injury.

This appears as a large, diffuse spot that is clearly underneath the nail rather than actually ‘within’ the toenail itself. Like blunt force trauma to, say, your leg, you will have bruising and discoloration of the area as it heals. In technical terms, this is called a subungual hematoma, which is the specific medical term for a nail bruise. Blood collects underneath the nail and turns it a reddish color.

Depending on the kind of injury, you may also have a nail laceration. This is where the nail is cut or torn in one or more places. Again, the nail appears red, and this time you will bleed. Both nail lacerations and trauma can affect the nail bed underneath. If the wound is deep enough, it will scar in some way. Your nail will be deformed from now on.

Your nail might also lift up, away from the nail bed. This can be exceptionally painful, especially if you catch it on something. This pulls it further away from the nail bed, which can be excruciating. This is also a symptom of repetitive trauma.

How Do You Treat Toenail Injury?

First things first, if you have severe nail trauma, you should see your physician. If the blunt force was hard enough, it could have fractured the bones in your toe. It’s best to make sure that you aren’t more severely injured than you think you are.

Treat Your Symptoms First

If your toenail injury isn’t that serious, the best thing you can do is to give it time. It will heal on its own, but you’ll need to make sure of two things.

  1. First, avoid damaging your nail more by not protecting it. It’s so easy to stub your toe if you aren’t careful. It’s painful enough as it is, but what if your nail is split? Much worse. You have to protect the wound as much as possible by wrapping it in high-quality bandages.
  2. Second, you have to avoid getting your wound infected if your nail is lacerated. Again, bandages are a good idea here. But you also should invest in some quality antibacterial cream that you can apply to the area. Avoid using alcohols since they will dry your toe and toenail out. If you want a natural option, Aloe Vera gel would be a good choice.

If tight shoes were the cause of your toenail injury, you would have to buy a new pair or use the FootFitter Premium Professional 2-Way Shoe Stretcher to create additional room. Wearing shoes that are too small is surprisingly common. This is especially the case for people whose feet are too wide, as it can be hard to find shoes that are broad enough.

Home Remedies

If you have a bruise underneath your nail, it is possible to get rid of it fairly easily.

All you have to do is use a sterile heated needle to make a small cut. Through this cut, you’ll be able to drain the blood stuck underneath your nail. Of course, this isn’t for the faint of heart, although it shouldn’t be too painful.

Failing that, you should see a doctor. Your physician can perform the same procedure.

toenail fungus vs. toenail trauma

What’s the Difference Between Toenail Fungus and Injury?

So then: now that we’ve taken a look at both toenail fungus and injury, you should know a lot more about each. Now let’s take a comprehensive look at how exactly to tell the difference between the two.

What Color Is Your Toenail?

Color is the central difference between the two conditions. Toenail fungus is most often characterized by the nail turning a yellow/brown color. The color begins where the infection first caught on and spread accordingly.

  • Important: If the area underneath your nail is red/purple or black, you have a toenail injury. The yellow color of toenail fungus is a direct result of the living fungal infection, so is not just a ‘reaction’ to damage to the nail. That’s why if you have toenail trauma, the only change in color will be red blotches from bruising/blood.

If your nail is clear, you could have either an early stage of fungus or a minor injury. Check for other symptoms instead.

How Does Your Toenail Smell?

Toenail fungus has an odor similar to unwashed feet, but stronger. If you notice at the end of each day that your toes give off a stronger odor than usual, this is a sign. It’s especially a sign of infection if they still smell even after washing, or soon after washing.

Toenail injuries do not have a particular scent unless the wound becomes infected. However, you may mistake general foot odor for the smell of a fungal infection. In this case, the best thing to do is think of other symptoms too. Is your nail discolored? Is it becoming crumbly as well as producing an odor? If so, you have a fungal infection.

What Shape Is Your Toenail?

If you have the initial stages of fungal infection, your toenail will remain the same shape.

However, after years and years of infection, your toenail will become entirely deformed. It will be gnarled and point to the side and up/down, in combination with other symptoms. Your nails may curl like claws. In conjunction with light crumbling, your nail may also become far shorter.

If you have a toenail injury, you may notice a dent in your nail, but it will not point in the wrong direction like a fungal toenail. Your toenail may also become thicker, which can change the shape of your toenail, but not drastically. It should still be roughly the same shape as it was before your injury.

What Consistency Is Your Toenail?

The term ‘consistency’ here refers to the texture of your nail. A normal, healthy nail will be robust and flexible.

Unfortunately, toenail conditions change the consistency of your nail. But not all conditions affect your nails in the same way, so this is one of the primary ways to tell toenail fungus and injury apart.

Toenail injury will deform your nail, but not regarding texture. Depending on the injury, it may be bent out of shape (as we described above). However, there should be no reason for it to change the consistency of your nail. Even if it becomes thicker, it should still be solid, although it will be less flexible.

Toenail fungus makes your nail crumble and become less flexible. This is one of the critical signs of fungal infection. After an extended period of infection, parts of your nail will crumble away. These bits will be solid but will crumble under pressure. This is never the case with injury.

How Thick Is Your Toenail?

Toenail thickness is one of the few symptoms that both fungus and injury share. However, if you have toenail fungus, by the time your nail becomes thick you will also be displaying other signs, e.g., yellowness, odor, and a crumbly consistency.

If your toenail is thick without the other symptoms, it is likely because of repeated trauma. Unlike damage caused by blunt force, continual high pressure can cause your toenail to become thicker. If your toenails are pressed against the sides of your shoe, over time, this will cause them to grow thicker—as a protective measure for your toes.

How to recover from toenail trauma

Daily Toenail Care Tips

So, by this point, it should be clear whether you have toenail fungus or an injury. But no matter what condition you have, there are a few tips you should follow.

These tips are going to help you:

  • Get rid of your injury/infection
  • Avoid recurrence of your injury/infection
  • Have happier, healthier, more hygienic feet and toes.

If that sounds good to you, start following these simple tips.

Clean Your Feet Properly

Cleaning your feet helps enormously. Use soap and water like you would use to wash anything else. This is going to minimize the bacteria and fungus on your feet. It’s also going to clear away any dead skin, which is fungus’ favorite food.

Once you’ve cleaned your feet, make sure you dry them properly too. Fungus loves moisture, so the longer your toes are damp or wet, the more it’ll grow. Applying plenty of moisture also helps you soften your toenails. This is going to help you recover from toenail trauma changing the shape or thickness of your nail.

Wash Socks And Towels Regularly

When it comes to hygiene, using antifungal socks and clean towels is just as important. There’s no point washing your feet thoroughly, only to use an old dirty towel. The problem is much worse if it’s one that somebody else who has fungus has used. You’re setting yourself up to catch it in no time.

The same goes for your socks. If you wear socks day and night, they’ll get sweaty, dirty and damp. Again, that’s perfect conditions for fungus. If your socks and shoes are too tight, that will only compound the problem by causing trauma.

Another great way to prevent recurrence of fungus or trauma is with a well-stocked medicine cabinet. If you know you’re susceptible to toenail fungus, for example, keep remedies around. Take a Tea Tree Oil Foot Soak with Epsoak Epsom Salt - 2 POUND (32oz) VALUE BAG - Fight Bacteria, Nail Fungus, Athlete's Foot & Unpleasant Foot Odor; Soften rough calluses & Soothe Tired, Achy Feet and an OTC cream stocked and ready.

The point is that the moment you notice any symptoms—just the earliest stages—you’re ready. You don’t have to send off to have them delivered. Or, you don’t have to visit a pharmacist for your prescription. You’re ready to fight it straight away, and keep your toenail fungus away for good.