What Causes Nail Fungus?


At best, nail fungus is an unpleasant condition everyone would rather avoid. At worst it can smell, hurt, and cause embarrassment. In this article, we’ll answer the questions, “ What causes toe fungus,” “What does toenail fungus look like,” and “How to treat toenail fungus?”

How Fungus Develops On Nails

Although other conditions like bacteria, psoriasis, and yeast can infect toenails and feet, when doctors refer to toenail fungus, they are referring to different types of fungus. Different kinds of fungus can infect the nail and cause a variety of symptoms. The most common fungus that people experience is called dermatophyte.

There are a variety of ways in which one can get toenail fungus.

Here are some of the most common risk factors for nail fungus.

Age - As we age, the body’s healing processes begin to slow down. That’s even true for one’s toes. As people age, their toes become brittle and dry which makes it more likely that the toenail will crack. These cracks in the toenail are an ideal way for fungus to enter the nail and start growing into a full-blown problem.

As people age, their toes become brittle and dry which makes it more likely that the toenail will crack

Additionally, as you age, your immune system weakens. This makes it easier for fungus to grow as well because your body is less able to fight off infections be they bacterial or fungal. Also as you age, your blood circulation gets worse which makes it that much harder for the body to properly protect itself from fungus.

Moisture - All fungus loves dark, moist places - be they foot fungus, mushrooms, or mold. If you naturally sweat a lot from your feet and wear socks, then you’re much more likely to experience a nail fungus than someone who doesn’t. The more often your feet are in dark, wet, warm environments for long periods of time, the higher the risk for nail fungus becomes.

Condition of feet - Having injuries on and around your foot also open you up to possible infections. Although it is possible, it is unlikely that you will catch foot fungus from someone else. That being said, it is very likely that a fungus on your feet can spread to your toes or a fungus on one toe can spread to the others or to the rest of the foot. Injuries make this spread that much easier for the fungus.

Having injuries on and around your foot also open you up to possible infections.

Walking around barefoot outside of your home usually increases the risk for fungus as well. It opens the foot up to injuries and exposes it to unnecessary levels of dirt, grime, and germs.

Health issues - Any health issues that mimic the effects of old age also increase the possibility of getting toenail fungus.

Diabetes is an example of this. Not only does diabetes affect your blood sugar but it affects your body’s ability to heal by restricting your blood flow. Any disease that limits blood circulation to the feet increases your chances of getting a foot fungus.

Additionally, autoimmune diseases increase the risk that you will get a foot fungus as well.

What Does Toenail Fungus Look Like

Toenail fungus can be identified with the following traits:

  • Thick nails
  • Brittle or ragged nails
  • Misshapen or Discolored nails
  • Dark color or material under the nail bed
  • Nails smell bad
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Any combination of these traits is a good sign that you likely have toenail fungus. Toenail fungus can also affect your fingernails so if you suspect that you have toenail fungus, but haven’t yet confirmed the diagnosis with a doctor, be sure to avoid touching or picking at your toes to avoid further infections.

Steps To Prevent Nail Fungus

Usually, you can prevent nail fungus by yourself. Following some quick, easy steps will help improve your chance of successfully preventing nail fungus.

Practice basic hygiene - The first step to preventing nail fungus is washing both your hands and feet on a regular basis with soap and water. Doing this will help get rid of any microbes before they can find root and start growing. Regular washing also discourages fungal spreading.

The first step to preventing nail fungus is washing both your hands and feet on a regular basis with soap and water

Trimming your toenails in a straight line is also helpful because it gets rid of excess nail which can hide microbes, dirt, and bacteria underneath the nail. If you have abnormally thick toenails, try filing them down some to help them breathe better.

Also, always use footwear around public pools and showers.

Pick your clothes carefully - Try and buy socks that absorb sweat and allow for air wicking. This will help keep your feet clean and dry instead of dirty and wet, Try and find shoes made of breathable materials as well. The more access you give your feet to air, the better.

If you have old pairs of shoes, or shoes that don’t breathe well but you have to wear, spray them with some sort of antifungal spray to reduce the risk of a toenail fungus infections.

Choose salons carefully - In a perfect world, all nail salons would be clean and follow best practices when it comes to hygiene. Unfortunately, they don’t. Do your homework and learn which nail salons are the cleanest and go to those salons instead of somewhere else.

Treating Nail Fungus

If toenail fungus prevention practices do not work, there are still ways to treat toenail fungus. You’ll need to have the fungus diagnosed by a doctor so you can know what specific kind of fungus you have. Expect that toenail fungus treatment will take anywhere from a month and a half to two months. This is because fungus is usually more difficult to get rid of than other infections.

Here are the three main ways to treat toenail fungus.

Oral treatments - Antifungal drugs are useful because they go into the bloodstream and straight to the problem tissue. Many doctors recommend an oral medication of some sort to jumpstart the healing process. You need to take oral medications up to 12 weeks for them to be effective. Oral treatments come with a variety of side effects that your doctor should tell you about so you can look out for warning signs of a negative reaction.

Creams -  Many creams can help soften the toenail and fight infection. This is helpful because a thick toenail makes fighting a fungal infection that much more difficult for your body. Emuaid can help fight against toenail fungus. Ask your doctor to find out whether Emuaid can help you.

Medicated nail polishes - Similar to medical creams like Emuaid, there are a variety of nail polishes that a doctor might prescribe that can also help fight against fungal infections. To use them you just paint your nails, remove the polish after several days, and then repaint them.

If these remedies fail, a doctor may recommend either partial or complete removal of the nail to more drastically fight back against the fungus.


A toenail infection can be uncomfortable and unsightly, but you can prevent and treat them. Now that you know what causes toenail fungus and what toenail fungus looks like you should feel more confident to deal with the problem should it ever arise.