Foot Fungus: Causes, Symptoms, and Remedies

October 17, 2023
4 mins

Fungus is a natural part of life and can be found pretty much everywhere. In fact, you actually have numerous types of fungus currently living all over your body. Permanent removal of this fungus is impossible regardless of how often you shower, the strength of your soaps, or how hard you try skin scraping. 

Your feet are a particularly fertile breeding ground for fungus. Scientists have found nearly 200 different species living on the human foot. Fungus especially thrives on your heels, underneath your toenails, and in between your toes. 

Contracting a foot fungal infection is extremely common and nearly impossible to prevent. Maintaining a healthy immune system is an excellent way to lower the odds of a fungal infection, but it can only do so much. You’ll need to take additional precautions if you want to avoid an infection.

Here’s everything you need to know about the fungus infections that can pop up from something as minute as prolonged perspiration or a not-so-sanitary pedicure tub at the nail salon. 

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What are the Different Types of Foot Fungus Infections?

There are numerous types of fungus out there that can infect specific areas of your body. The skin, nails, and hair are common areas that are prone to infections. In fact, medical experts estimate that as many as a billion people worldwide have fungal infections.

Since feet usually don’t have a large collection of hair, you’re more vulnerable of fungal infections affecting your skin or nails. Skin and nail infection have a few similarities, but they also have distinct characteristics that separate them apart:

Nail infections

The medical name for nail-based fungal infections is onychomycosis. Nail fungus can be caused by yeasts and molds, but the primary culprit are microorganisms called dermatophytes. These fungi infect you by burrowing into the space between your toenail and nail bed, and it only takes a small cut for dermatophytes to infect your toenail. 

Dermatophytes survive by feeding on the keratin that helps compose your toenails. Keratin is a naturally produced protein that is also found in your skin and hair. As a result, nail fungus infections have a tendency to spread. Touching an infected toenail can infect your fingernail. Scratching your scalp, beard, or groin with this fingernail can now leave you with several infections. 

Onychomycosis is a particular problem for anyone with diabetes, circulatory problems, or a poor immune system. If you have any of these medical conditions, you’ll need to take extra precautions to avoid a fungal infection.

Skin infections 

The medical name for skin-based foot infections is tinea pedis. You might not have heard that term before, but you’ve almost certainly heard its nickname of “athlete's foot.” Similar to nail fungus, tinea pedis is the result of dermatophytes. 

Athlete’s foot is notorious for being highly contagious and can quickly spread between players in a locker room. The reason why is because dermatophytes thrive in warm and moist environments. So showers, swimming pools, saunas, and locker rooms are the perfect conditions for dermatophytes. 

You can even accidentally create a dermatophyte breeding ground in your socks. Wearing tight shoes and sweating into cotton or wool socks with poor ventilation can greatly increase the odds of a dermatophyte infection.  

Where Do Fungal Infections Occur in Your Feet?

No part of your foot is immune to a fungal infection, but there are some hotspots that dermatophytes will really favor. 

Nail infections

Onychomycosis and nail fungus infections will obviously stick to your toenails. Fungal nail infections are particularly tricky because you might not be aware that you have it until you see complications or spread. The symptoms are largely painless, so the infection is able to spread fairly easily to other nails. 

In most cases, a fungal infection of the nail begins in your big toe or little toe, beneath the surface of the nail. Remember that dermatophytes typically infect you by attacking injured toes and toenails. Stubbing your big or little toe is much more likely than banging up your middle toes, and tight shoes will affect these toes the most, too.

Skin infections 

Tinea pedis and athlete’s foot infections will normally infect the area between your toes. The infection can start in any of your toes, but typically seems to start in between your fourth and fifth toes first. It usually doesn’t take very long before the infection spreads to your other toes.

Most of the time, the infection remains in the webbing part of your toes and stay there. However, the infection has been known to spread and can infect any part of your foot. The heel, bottom, and sides of your feet can also experience symptoms if you leave an infection untreated. 

What are the Symptoms of Foot Fungal Infections?

The symptoms of both types of fungal infection are quite different despite dermatophytes being the main cause of both. There are a few different types of onychomycosis and tinea pedis that will cause specific symptoms. 

These are a few of the possible symptoms of each type of fungal infection:

Nail infections

  • Yellow or brown discoloration

  • White spots

  • Distorted nail shape

  • Thickened nails

  • Weak, brittle, or crumbling nails

  • Unpleasant odor

  • Nail pulls away from the nail bed

Skin infections

  • Red or discolored skin

  • Itching, stinging, or burning sensation

  • Blisters, pus, and sores

  • Cracking, flaking, and peeling skin

  • Excessively dry skin

How Do You Treat Fungal Infections?

Fungal infections can be incredibly difficult to treat. Even a relatively minor infection that’s caught early on can still take a few months of treatments. Even after you’ve cured the infection, they have a nasty tendency of returning later in life. 

Preventative measures are always preferable. Keeping your immune system strong is one of the best ways to reduce the odds of a fungal infection. If you still end up contracting a fungal infection, there are a few of the most effective treatment options.

Nail infections 

There are only a few over-the-counter medications that can help you get rid of a nail fungus infection. 

The most common treatment method is applying colorless medicated nail polish to the infected toenails. These polishes contain either amorolfine or ciclopirox and will need to be applied every few days. 

Topical antifungal creams and oral antifungal medications are much more effective. You may need to visit a doctor, but terbinafine, itraconazole, griseofulvin and fluconazole have all been shown to help eliminate nail fungus infections.  

Skin infections

Skin infections have way more over-the-counter treatment options than nail infections. 

You'll have your pick of creams, sprays, ointments, gels, and liquids. Be sure to look for products containing terbinafine, naftifine, bifonazole, cloretazine, miconazole, or oxiconazole. Corticosteroids can also be helpful for reducing painful inflammation in the infected area. 

In some cases, you might need to employ the help of oral medications. A doctor can prescribe oral terbinafine or itraconazole to help fight off the infection faster. 

How Do You Prevent Foot Fungal Infections?

You can never completely eliminate the odds of contracting a fungal infection, but taking the following precautions can significantly reduce it:

  • Wear sandals or flip-flops whenever you use community showers, swimming pools, saunas, or locker rooms

  • Use talcum powder to remove moisture in your socks and socks

  • Thoroughly dry off your feet when exiting the shower

  • Moisturize your feet regularly

  • Wear shoes that are well ventilated, and wear socks that are made of breathable material 

  • Keep your nails trimmed short, but be careful not to damage them

  • Wear proper fitting shoes that don’t compress your toes

  • Change your socks often, especially if your feet sweat a lot

  • Wash socks, bedding, and towels in very hot water

  • Don’t share any socks, shoes, or towels with other people

How Rex MD Can Help

Fungal infections are an unfortunate part of life and virtually impossible to avoid. There is fungus living all over your body, but it especially thrives on your feet. 

Maintaining a strong immune system and taking some precautions are the best ways to avoid a fungal infection. However, it’s still very likely that you encounter an infection at some point or another. 

Make sure that you treat it as soon as you can or the symptoms will get worse and spread. It doesn’t take long before a small burning sensation in your foot can become an issue in your toenails, groin, or scalp.

If you are experiencing a fungal infection, RexMD’s parent company LifeMD can connect you to a licensed medical professional to help you identify the cause and determine the most effective treatment plan for you. Make an online appointment today to get started.

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