Is Toenail Fungus Caused by Athlete’s Foot?

Athlete’s foot and toenail fungus are common health ailments. According to a research paper published by the U.S National Library of Medicine, a fungus is a reason for up to 50 percent of all nail diseases.

If left untreated, foot fungus could lead to additional complications. While athlete’s foot may seem like a minor irritation, it can ‘potentially’ cause toenail fungus which is much more difficult to treat. And there are further health concerns.

In this guide, we’ll carefully examine toenail fungus and its connection to athlete’s foot. You will learn what the fungus is, how to identify a toe fungus, how to treat the infection, and whether the condition presents any other health risks.

Can Athlete’s Foot Affect Toenails?

Although athlete’s foot and toenail fungus are two separate complaints, they are caused by the same group of fungi. Therefore, athlete’s foot can spread to the toenails. However, let’s differentiate between the two.

  • Athlete’s foot, clinically known as tinea pedis, is a skin fungus that grows on the soles of the feet and in between the toes. The condition causes the skin on the foot to crack, and peel or become flaky. Sometimes the skin will become red and itchy. You may also experience mild burning sensations, perhaps even stinging.
  • Toenail infections are known as onychomycosis or tinea unguium. The fungi grow under the nail and lives off skin and keratin. This erodes all the protein and causes the toenails to turn a dark yellow. You may also notice white spots on the nail.

It is not uncommon for people that have athlete’s foot also to develop onychomycosis  – primarily if you do not treat athlete’s foot early. This type of fungus spreads easily from skin between the toes and when left untreated will get under the toenail.

Visible Signs of a Fungal Toenail Infections

  • Discoloration of the nail – white or yellow streaks
  • Hard and brittle nails with ridges that break when you cut them
  • White gunk under the toenails caused by keratin debris
  • An unpleasant odor coming from the infected nail
  • Scaling under the nail
  • The toenail may eventually turn black when left untreated
  • Toenail pushed away from the nail bed
  • Dead nails fall away from the nail bed

Fungal nail infections are initially painless, but should not be ignored. When left untreated the infection can cause irritation and discomfort. If left untreated, the toenail can peel away from the toenail bed which can be extremely painful.

Can Foot Fungus Spread to Other Parts of the Body?

The tinea fungi group are contagious, so they can quickly spread to other parts of the body. The fungus grows naturally alongside bacteria on humans but needs a dark, moist environment to thrive.

When a fungus is permitted to grow, it can develop into an infection. For the majority of people, the most likely outbreak of a fungal infection is the feet. Other body parts that are commonly affected are the groin, fingernails, and scalp.

  • People that have diabetes or compromised immune systems are also at risk of the infection getting into the bloodstream. However, this only ever happens in severe cases when the fungi are left untreated and are allowed to develop into the latter stages.
  • The age group that is most susceptible are the elderly. The incidence increases sharply as we get older. Patients on medication for other illnesses are also at risk of fungal infections spreading.
  • The spread of fungal infections is linked with patients taking chemotherapy drugs and corticosteroids. People that live with diabetes and psoriasis are also more likely to suffer from a spread of a fungal infection than someone who has a clean bill of health.

To prevent complications, your best option is to treat athlete’s foot and toenail fungus in the early stages.

Is Toenail Fungus Contagious in the Shower?

A fungus is a living organism that relies on a host to survive. They are, therefore, highly contagious and can be easily transmitted from one person to another. The spread can occur either through direct or indirect contact.

The risk of contracting foot fungus is more prevalent in environments that are warm and moist. Fungi thrive in public swimming pools, gyms, nail salons, saunas, spas, and airports.

  • If you share a locker room, communal shower or nail utensils with infected people, you are at risk of developing an infection as well. You should always use your own specialist clippers for thickened toenails.
  • You should always wear protective footwear in public spaces where fungi and other bacteria thrive. Just the act of going barefoot at airport security checks can lead to foot fungus.
  • If you, a friend, or family member has a fungal infection, and you share a living space, do not share items such as towels, nail clippers, nail files, nail brush or clothes. Indeed, don’t wear anybody else’s shoes – sweaty places are a favorite stomping ground for fungi.
  • When taking a shower, people with a fungal infection on their foot or toenails should take precautions to prevent the spread of infection to other people. Wear a rubber sock or flip-flops around the house, especially in the shower. The damp environment of a shower is a perfect breeding ground for fungi.

Can Nail Fungus Cause Other Health Issues?

For the most part, nail fungus is nothing more troubling than a cosmetic issue. While disfigured nails can appear unsightly, there is little to be concerned about other than the irritation of your itchy skin.

However, this is only the case if you identify the problem and treat it in the early stages of onset. If left to grow, fungal infections can cause other health issues as well. Fungal infections will not go away of their own accord!

That’s not to say that nail fungus will cause significant health issues, at least not for most people. However, the complications untreated toenail fungus can cause is something you would probably prefer to live without. And complications can certainly be avoided.

Toenail fungus grows and spreads easily. If you do not treat the condition properly, it can lead to additional problems that would not ordinarily exist if it was treated.

If foot fungus spreads to the toes, it will cause your toenails to become hard and brittle, This can cause pain and discomfort in the toes, especially when wearing shoes that are quite tight. You will almost certainly experience discomfort with new shoes.

Your toes can also feel tender when you are trimming them. When toenails become brittle, they are more difficult to cut. A broken nail can cause an ingrowing toenail which is extremely painful and may have to be surgically removed.

When athlete’s foot is left untreated, the skin will become hard and cracked which can also be painful and uncomfortable to walk. Furthermore, cracked skin makes it easier for bacteria to grow and increases the risk of skin infections.

In severe cases, the fungi can seep into the skin and get into the bloodstream. Although this condition can be treated successfully with antibiotics, it can be deadly. It’s best not to take the risk.

Pre-Existing Medical Conditions

Patients with pre-existing health conditions should take notice of fungal infections in the feet and toenails as they can cause severe complications. Toenail fungus can invite symptoms from other conditions in unexpected ways.

People living with diabetes, cancer, aids and other conditions that weaken the immune system are most susceptible.

The immune system is needed to help fight off infections and bacteria. Patients that have an immune system that has been compromised are at more risk of the infections spreading.

Furthermore, if infections cause sores, cuts or abrasions, there is a high-risk of the wound developing a bacterial infection which can cause all manner of other complications.

Diabetes and Toenail Fungus

Diabetes reduces the circulation of blood to the legs and feet. The condition can also cause nerve damage. As a consequence, diabetics do not feel much sensation in their feet. If you do not ordinarily check your feet every day, you may not realize you have damaged your foot.

Any trauma to the foot can result in complications if you are also carrying a fungal infection. Even a minor scrape or scratch can result in a foot ulcer which can become infected.

The risk of an infected foot ulcer presents the potential for gangrene. Limbs that become infected to the point where they can no longer be treated may require amputation to prevent the disease from reaching vital organs. In rare and extreme cases, gangrene can result in death.

Here are some valuable foot care tips for diabetics.

What is the relationship between athlete's foot and toenail fungus?

Avoiding Health Risks of Toenail Fungus

Although nail fungal infections are not generally life-threatening, ignoring them does more harm than good in the long-term.

When toenail fungus is left untreated, it can cause permanent damage to the nail. Athlete’s foot causes the skin to crack and open which invites bacteria to grow. This can lead to worse infections.

People with nerve damage and poor blood circulation should check their feet every day to make sure there are no lacerations that could become infected. In most cases fungal infections are avoidable.

People that are most likely to contract foot fungus such as athlete’s foot and toenail fungus are:

  • Diabetics
  • People over 65
  • Reduced blood flow or nerve damage
  • Use public changing rooms, saunas or spas
  • Have suffered trauma to toes or feet
  • Regularly wear sweaty shoes all day
  • Wear artificial nails
  • Go to nail salons
  • Have a weakened immune system
  • Play sports or keep-fit and have sweaty feet
  • Don’t dry between your toes after washing

Taking good care of your feet and being consciously aware of the dangers fungal foot infections present narrow the risk of contracting other health concerns.

If you do have a pre-existing medical condition that affects the nerves or immune system, or if you use public services that have the potential to breed fungi and bacteria, take precautions to reduce the risk of infection.

Avoid Waiting to Treat Toenail Fungus or Athlete’s Foot

Although foot fungal infections may not appear to be bothersome, leaving the condition untreated will become irritable. If you continue to ignore the problem, the complications can become much more serious.

  • Important: The tinea fungi group is contagious and spreads quickly. Athlete’s foot can spread to the toenails and cause onychomycosis. The more fungi are encouraged to thrive, the more difficult it becomes to treat.

This is particularly the case for toenail fungus that has taken hold under the toenail. Once nails become infected, it can take up to 18 months for the infected toenail to grow out.

Furthermore, patients have to continuously treat the infection with a cream or drug that stifles the growth. If you neglect to treat a foot fungal infection, it will continue to spread, even after it may appear to have cleared up.

In general, fungal infections only cause minor irritations. The may also make your toenails and feet appear unsightly, which can be embarrassing for some people. You will probably also suffer from smelly feet which can also lead to embarrassing situations.

Some people will also suffer from pain in the feet and toenails. If you reach this point, you should seriously consider consulting a doctor or podiatrist to find a suitable treatment.

The longer you ignore the problem, the worse it will get. And that could mean needing treatment that is more expensive. There is also a potentially increased risk of contracting other health issues.

When you treat foot fungal infections when they are in the early stages, your doctor will most likely be recommended an antifungal cream or ointment. However, in more severe cases, doctors will prescribe oral drugs – and they can have side effects.

  • Important: Pharmaceuticals that are used for treating fungal infections have been linked with unpleasant side effects such as nausea, headaches, stomach ache, diarrhea, skin rash, weight loss, fever, joint pains, swelling and a change in mood. In the most severe cases, they have been linked with liver damage.

Toenail Fungus Complications

The American Osteopathic College of Dermatology revealed that fungal toenail infections could lead to permanent damage. The longer the condition is left untreated, the more difficult it is to treat.

The most common complications of foot fungal infections are:

  • Deformation of the toenail
  • A resurgence of the infection
  • The spread of the disease to other areas of the body
  • Penetration of the skin into the bloodstream
  • Dead toenail, and loss of a toenail
  • Cellulitis

Cellulitis is a condition that produces swollen skin that is red and tender to the touch. It can be started by a simple fungal infection but is treated with antibiotics. If the disease enters the bloodstream, it could be fatal.

If you suffer from diabetes, psoriasis, or a weakened immune system, and develop a fungal infection on your foot or toenails, you should consult a doctor.

When you’re in good health and catch the infection early enough, you should be able to treat the condition with an over-the-counter foot fungal cream – and in some cases home remedies.

Treatments for Athlete’s Foot and Toenail Fungus

Although tinea pedis (athlete’s foot) and tinea unguium (toenail fungus) stem from the same fungus, they need different treatments.

  • Pro Tip: Athlete’s foot is typically the milder condition of the two – even though it is often the cause of toenail fungus. A mild condition of athlete’s foot can be treated with a recommended antifungal cream.

It is possible to cure athlete’s foot in a matter of weeks, although the typical healing time is four to eight weeks. Recommended treatments include creams, ointments, sprays, liquid, powders, and antibiotics.

Does athlete's foot cause fungal nail infections?

Taking good care of your feet also helps prevent athletes foot or at stop it from returning if you have already had the infection. Wash your feet every day and dry between the toes. Wearing socks with shoes also reduces the risk of athlete’s foot.

If the skin infection from athlete’s foot spreads to your toenails, you will need a strong form of treatment that can penetrate into the skin.

In many cases, OTC creams should be effective, but you should look for brands that are specially formulated for the treatment of toenail fungus as they include active ingredients that are proven to effective in the fight against fungi.

It should be noted the toenail fungal infections will not be eliminated until the infected nail has grown out entirely and replaced by a new nail. Toenail fungus can take between 12-18 months to get rid of.

You should also consider that treatments do not work for everybody. You may get better results with essential oils for athlete’s foot.

All antifungal products contain a variety of active ingredients that are known to inhibit the growth of fungus. However, you may have to experiment with several before you find one your body responds to.

So yes, toenail fungus is caused by athlete’s foot but can be prevented by addressing the issue of foot fungus in the early stages. Look out for the tell-tale symptoms.

If you don’t treat athlete’s foot and develop toenail fungus, the result is that the healing time is a significantly more prolonged process. You also put yourself at risk of developing other complications that may disrupt your quality of life and possibly even your health. Don’t take any chances.