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 literally millions of parasites that are just looking for a host to call home. Those parasites show up in different kinds of infections on 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 in warmer weather), and toenails make a perfect barrier for trapping in bacteria. When it comes to fungal infections, or toenail fungus, our toes often make a perfect environment for growth and spreading.

While toenail fungus is commonly known, a bacterial infection of the toes isn’t as ‘popular.’ Many people will just assume they have a toenail fungus, when it could be something else entirely. But, it’s important to know the difference, so whatever issue you may be facing can be treated properly.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the differences between these two types of toenail issues. By being informed as to what you can look for, you’ll be better equipped to get rid of the problem.

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

There are plenty of differences between these two ‘families’ of infections. Everything from their origins, to the way they need to be treated are different. Knowing those differences is key to 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 to know what to look for. If you’re experiencing the following symptoms and signs, you’ll have a better idea of how to fix it.

How to Tell If You Have Toenail Fungus

Fungus in general can sometimes be classified as both plant, and/or animal. That makes it different on its own from any type of bacterial infection. The first signs of a toenail fungus are typically something like a small white dot on the nail, that can grow and spread over time.

Fungus is typically caused by moisture that gets trapped under the nail itself. When you think of fungus as an animal or plant, you can see that this particular type of environment would be perfect for growth. It’s warm, moist, and typically dark. Because we cover our feet up with things like socks and shoes, we continue to trap that moisture inside, allowing the fungus to grow and thrive even more.

Many people characterize things like Athlete’s foot as a type of nail fungus, which makes sense, considering the moisture and entrapment of that moisture that most athletes deal with. However, anyone can get nail fungus. Staying away from public showers, being cautious at nail salons, wearing shoes and socks that aren’t too tight, and keeping your feet properly cleaned are all great ways to help prevent a fungus.

However, from the first sign of a fungus, it can spread and grow quickly. Even if it doesn’t spread onto other toes, it can become unsightly. Toenail fungus can cause the nail itself to become extremely hard and brittle. Sometimes, the nail will become discolored. If the fungus gets bad enough without proper treatment, the nail may even fall off.

More often than not, you’ll know a fungus when you see it by its apparent growth on the outside of the skin and nail. Its overall appearance is much different than that of a bacterial infection.

How to Tell If You Have a Bacterial Infection

While all bacteria on our body isn’t bad, there are over 200 different species, and some of them can indeed be harmful. Our feet are especially prone to bacterial infections because of their frequent exposure to the elements. Most people, however, are quick to confuse bacterial infections with toenail fungus. There are a few things to look for when it comes to telling the difference.

Toenail Fungus or Bacterial Infection - telling the differenceFirst, bacterial infections are caused differently. They are often caused by either repeated trauma to the toe and/or 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. Occasionally, you may notice some type of 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 as quickly as possible, 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 simply ‘go away’ on its own.

Treatments for Toenail Fungus & Bacterial Infections

Now that you know what to look for as far as symptoms go, it’s important to also know how to treat both a toenail fungus and bacterial infection. First and foremost, if you’re unsure as to what you might have, it’s always a good idea to see a doctor. These are two conditions that need very different types of treatment.

One thing they do have in common? They will not disappear untreated. They also both run the risk of spreading quickly. So, while there are several treatment options to consider, starting early is truly the key for a quick healing process.

Toenail Fungus Treatment Options

Fungus typically needs to be treated topically. Antibiotics will not work on any type of fungus, like they do with bacterial infections. You can either talk to your doctor about an extra-strength type of cream or ointment. Or, simply purchase an over-the-counter toenail fungus treatment. Click on this link and find out more about our top 3 choices!

bacterial infection under toenail

It’s always a good idea to look for a treatment option that will work by penetrating the nail itself. Or, something that can seep underneath the nail, instead of just the surrounding skin. There are also plenty of home remedies with multiple anecdotal successes. Everything from tea tree oil, to coconut oil, and even apple cider vinegar have been known to cure and treat toenail fungus. Don’t be afraid to do your research, and try a few different options. Using natural ingredients typically means there are no side effects to worry about.

The most important thing to keep in mind is to keep treating the fungus until it is completely gone – and even for a while afterward. Toenail fungus is a tricky thing, at times, and can come back quite easily if treatment is stopped too quickly.

Bacterial Infection Treatment Options

Just as fungus can’t be treated with antibiotics, bacterial infections cannot be treated with antifungal creams. The best thing you can do for this type of infection is to see a doctor or podiatrist as soon as possible. Antibiotics must be administered in order to cure the infection. These antibiotics can usually either be topical, or taken orally, depending on the type of infection.

As with toenail fungus, 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 begun. Once you are given any type of antibiotics, it’s important to continue using them until they are completely gone, or until a specific timeline has passed, as recommended by your doctor.

Understand How to Identify 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 can really help when it comes to treating the problem, and getting rid of it as quickly as possible.

Remember that bacterial infections are characterized by redness and swelling, while fungus can be recognized by hardening of the nail, or discoloration. If you’re still confused as to what issue you might be facing, see a podiatrist for a definitive answer. The sooner you know the type of condition you’re dealing with, the faster you can begin treating it. You can also take the proper steps toward prevention by taking care of your toes, and keeping them away from any of the possible culprits that can cause these issues.