If cellulitis isn't treated, the infection can spread to the bloodstream and become a life-threatening condition for many people. This is the most serious outcome of an untreated toenail fungus, which can be prevented with treatment from a medical professional. There are some rare cases of toenail fungus that spreads through the bloodstream to other parts of the body. Nail fungus can increase the risk of a bacterial infection in the surrounding skin and, in rare cases, a fungal infection on the toenails can cause bacterial skin infections that occur when certain bacteria enter the skin through a cut or ulcer.
This complication of fungal toenail infection is of particular concern for people with diabetes and other chronic conditions that weaken the immune system. If a toenail fungus spreads to the skin and causes it to crack, bacteria can enter. This can cause cellulitis, a condition that causes swelling, redness and tenderness of the skin and that must be treated with antibiotics, according to the U.S. In severe cases of cellulitis, the infection can enter the bloodstream and be mortal.
Although the risk of getting these bacterial infections from a toenail fungus is very low, it is higher in people who have diabetes, circulatory problems, or a weakened immune system. Yes, toenail fungus can spread to other toenails and other parts of the body, such as the groin area, a condition known as tinea inguinalis. The taste and aversion for fungi explain what has often baffled us: why we hear so much about toenail fungus, but very little about fingernails. If you have toenail fungus but are otherwise healthy, you can treat it on your own with a topical antifungal product or visit your healthcare provider to prescribe an oral antifungal medication, which is usually more effective than topical medications.
While many people are otherwise healthy and may think that this is a cosmetic problem, ignoring a toenail infected with fungus could have health consequences that go beyond appearances. If a toenail fungus spreads to the skin between the toes, it's known as tinea pie, more commonly called athlete's foot. The American College of Osteopathy of Dermatology explains that toenails infected with fungus can separate from the nail bed, a condition known as onycholysis. Toenails can take anywhere from four months to a year to grow back, and (here's the trick), once you stop taking medications, the growth can come back if you don't stay absolutely clean and careful to avoid exposure to the fungus.
Because toenail fungus (onychomycosis) isn't usually painful, many people postpone seeking treatment, says Peter Joseph, DPM, a podiatrist at Allegheny Health Network in Pittsburgh. A study conducted on French families with toenail fungus revealed that, when one spouse contracted the fungus, the other did not contract it after 18 to 60 years of living, showering and sleeping together. The doctor may take a small sample from the toenail and have it tested to confirm the presence of a fungus. If you have a fungus on your toenails and you also have a chronic condition, such as diabetes, see your healthcare provider for treatment to help prevent secondary infections that may put your health.
With all the serious health hazards out there, such as cancer and diabetes, having a yellowish toenail fungus toenail may seem pretty insignificant.