Do You Have Toenail Fungus or a Bacterial Infection? Know the Difference!

It can be hard to tell if you have toenail fungus or a bacterial infection. There are millions of parasites that are just looking for a host to call their home. Those parasites show up in different kinds of infections in the human body. The most common types are viral, bacterial, and fungal.

Places like the toes are susceptible to different types of infections. They are often exposed to the elements (especially during warmer weather), and toenails act as a barrier that traps bacteria. When it comes to fungal infections or toenail fungus, our toes/nails are the perfect environment for growth and spreading.

While toenail fungus is very well-known, a bacterial infection of the toes isn’t talked about nearly as much. Many people assume that they have fungus when it could be something else entirely. It’s common to get an infection due to an ‘unremoved’ splinter underneath the toenail, for example. You need to know the difference, so whatever issue you may be facing, it can be treated.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the differences between these two medical conditions. By getting informed, you’ll be better placed to find the right treatment for the right problem. Let’s look at some of the key differences.

Toenail Fungus or a Bacterial Infection – What’s the Difference?

There are plenty of differences between these two groups of infections. Everything from their origins, to the way they need to be treated, are different. Knowing those differences is key to finding the right kind of treatment. It’s not safe to just assume you’re experiencing a fungus without knowing possible symptoms of a bacterial infection. Things will never get cleared up properly, and it could cause more issues later on.

Breaking down the differences between a bacterial infection and toenail fungus can give you the resources you need. If you’re experiencing the following symptoms, you’ll have a better idea of how to resolve the underlying cause.

How to Tell If You Have Toenail Fungus

A fungus is typically caused by moisture that gets trapped under the nail. Because we cover our feet up with socks and shoes, we continue to trap that moisture inside, allowing the fungus to grow and thrive.

  • People with nail fungus will likely experience discoloration, black dots, deformation, jagged edges, a bad smell, and crumbling. It’s also possible that the nail will start to come away from its bed, as the condition reaches the height of its powers.
  • Even if it doesn’t spread to other toes, it will likely worsen and become unsightly.

Its overall appearance is much different to a bacterial infection.

How to Tell If You Have a Bacterial Infection

While all bacteria on our body aren’t bad, there are over 200 different species, and some can be harmful. Our feet are prone to infections because of their frequent exposure to the elements. Most people, however, are quick to confuse bacterial infections with toenail fungus.

There are things to look for when it comes to telling the difference:

  • Bacterial infections have a different cause. They are often caused by either repeated trauma to the toe and nail, or a one-time intense traumatic event. The most common reason for this is an ingrown nail that keeps breaking the plane of the skin. They are notorious for causing infections within the nail bed. However, things like nail tools, or even something as simple as stubbing your toe could cause enough damage to cause a bacterial infection.
  • Bacterial infections appear differently than fungus, too. The first signs of infection will include things like redness, swelling, and pain. You may notice some yellow drainage from the nail. If the infection gets bad enough, sometimes the nail may fall off, or become loose.
  • The most common form of bacterial infections for the toes is called staph infection. Staph needs to be treated quickly, as it spreads rapidly. Without proper treatment, it can lead to a multitude of other issues, and you may lose your nail permanently. The problem with bacteria is that it does spread quickly, and feeds off of our body itself. So, it won’t go away on its own.

Toenail Fungus or Bacterial Infection - telling the difference

Treatments for Toenail Fungus & Bacterial Infections

Now that you know what to look for as far as symptoms go, it’s important also to know how to treat both a toenail fungus and a bacterial infection. These are two conditions that need completely different types of treatment.

What do they have in common? They will not disappear if left untreated. They also run the risk of spreading quickly. So, while there are several treatments to consider, taking action straight away is the key to faster healing and recovery.

How Can Toenail Fungus Be Treated?

  • Creams, gels, and ointments. There are many formulas that you can apply to a fungal infection of the nails, but only a select few deliver good results. One OTC products that are often recommended by podiatrists is Xenna Nonyx nail gel.
  • Foot soaks. A tea tree oil soak is an effective and relaxing way to remove fungus.
  • Laser treatment. Expensive if carried about by a doctor, but there are at-home laser treatments that work for some people.
  • Prescription meds. These can be effective, but there are some unpleasant side effects. Other options are preferred if you’re not in good health.

bacterial infection under toenail

What Are the Treatments for a Bacterial Infection?

Just as fungus can’t be treated with antibiotics, bacterial infections cannot be treated with antifungal creams. Antibiotics must be administered to cure the infection. These antibiotics can usually either be topical or taken orally, depending on the type of infection.

It’s easy for bacteria to grow and thrive, especially in the type of environment provided by the feet. That also makes it easy for the infection to come back, even after treatment has been completed. Once you’re given any antibiotics, continue using them until they are completely gone.

How to Identify Different Toenail Issues

Although it can be easy to assume that any issue with the nail is a fungus, or athlete’s foot, that’s not always the case. Knowing whether you have toenail fungus or a bacterial infection will help when it comes to treating the problem.

Remember that infections caused by bacteria are almost immediately characterized by redness, swelling, and oozing. Fungus initially causes a hardening of the nail and discoloration/yellowing. Soreness, redness, and swelling tend to occur at a later stage when the nail is infected by fungus.