Toenail Fungus vs. Ingrown Toenail – A Podiatrist’s Guide

toenail fungus vs ingrown toenail

Foot problems can be incredibly frustrating, and their impact goes far beyond just bothering your toenails. Since your feet are the foundation for everything you do, issues down there can disrupt your daily activities – one way or another.

For one, toenail infections can lead to painful movement, making simple activities like walking, climbing the stairs, or even standing for long periods excruciating. When the problem comes with swelling and stiffness, your ability to perform certain activities becomes limited. This is especially frustrating if you enjoy jogging, hiking, or playing sports.

Not only that – foot pain can also significantly impact your productivity at work, especially if your job involves a lot of standing, walking, or being on your feet. Lastly, foot problems can make you self-conscious and hesitant to participate in social activities that require wearing open-toed footwear.

Without a doubt, problems with your toenails can have a significant domino effect on your well-being.

Common Conditions that Affect Toenails

There are two common conditions that can affect your toenails: toenail fungus and ingrown nails. While both can manifest similar symptoms like discoloration and discomfort, their causes and treatments differ greatly.

This guide will help you understand the key differences between toenail fungus and ingrown toenails, their symptoms, causes, and treatment options.

What is Toenail Fungus

Toenail fungus, also known as onychomycosis, is a fungal infection that grows under the toenail. This type of infection is more common in individuals over the age of 60. However, having other health conditions like diabetes or a weakened immune system can also put you at higher risk.

A fungus infection in the toenail can develop if you have a small cut or broken nail. This allows the fungus to enter your nail bed. Wearing sweaty shoes allows the fungus to grow, as it thrives in warm environments.

Nail fungus can also spread from person to person by sharing the same personal items like nail clippers. Hence, proper sanitation is important before and after trimming your nails.


  • Discoloration of the toenail (yellow, white, brown)
  • Thickening and brittleness of the nail
  • Debris buildup under the nail
  • Distorted or ragged nail edges
  • A slightly unpleasant odor in some cases
  • Bad smell wafting from the nail

While toenail fungus can be unsightly and cause some discomfort, it often doesn’t pose a significant health risk. However, it can be persistent and challenging to treat.


If you notice any of the symptoms mentioned above, it is best to visit your local podiatrist to get proper care and treatment and, most importantly, to prevent complications.


The treatment for damaged toenails due to fungus infection varies depending on the severity of your condition. Treatment options include the following:

– Topical Softeners

These creams are applied directly to the surface of the nail to help with nail health and to enhance the effectiveness of the other treatment options.

– Topical Antifungal Creams

These creams are applied directly to the infected nail and can be effective for mild cases.

Topical Antifungal Creams

– Oral Antifungal Medication

Prescription oral medication may be necessary for more stubborn infections.

Oral Antifungal Medication

– Laser Treatment

Newer laser therapy offers a promising alternative with fewer side effects than medication.

Laser Treatment

– Nail Removal

In severe cases, a podiatrist may recommend removing the affected toenail for optimal treatment.

Nail Removal

What is Ingrown Toenail

ingrown toenail

On the other hand, an ingrown toenail is a condition where the nail grows into the skin of the toe, often affecting the big toe. Improper nail-cutting technique is a common cause of this foot condition. An injury or wearing shoes that are too tight can also cause the nails to grow awkwardly.

Anyone of all ages and genders can develop an ingrown toenail. However, individuals who regularly perform activities that involve kicking repeatedly or putting pressure on their feet for long periods, such as ballet, football, or kickboxing, are at higher risk.


  • Pain and tenderness around the affected toe
  • Redness and swelling of the skin near the toenail
  • Pus discharge in some cases (infection sign)
  • Difficulty walking or wearing shoes due to discomfort


If you’re starting to feel discomfort and pain when putting pressure on your toe, it is best to pay your nearest podiatry clinic a visit to get proper care and attention.


The treatment for ingrown toenails varies depending on whether the condition is still in its early stages or has already become infected.

– Home Treatment

For mild cases, especially if there is no infection, you can treat it at home by soaking the affected toe in cold water for 5 to 10 minutes. Keep the skin next to the toenail edge soft using skin-softening creams. 

ingrown toenail home treatment

– Minor In-Office Procedure

A skilled and professional podiatrist can numb the toe and remove a small portion of the ingrown nail edge.

ingrown toenail Minor In-Office Procedure

– Surgery

In rare cases, a minor surgical procedure may be necessary for chronic or severe ingrown toenails.

ingrown toenail surgery

When to See a Podiatrist

Home remedies for toenail fungus and ingrown toenails can only offer temporary relief. If pain starts to affect your daily routine and infection persists or worsens, it is best to consult a specialist. Remember, early diagnosis and treatment can prevent serious complications and ensure you’re back on your feet quickly.

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