What Is a Toe Infection?

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Toe infections are common. They cause many unpleasant symptoms and can lead to complications if not treated properly or quickly enough. Types of toe infections include a range of bacterial or fungal infections.

This article overviews common toe infections, symptoms, causes, prevention, diagnosis, and treatment options.

Doctor examining patient's toe

Irina Tiumentseva / Getty Images

Toe Infection Symptoms

Symptoms of a toe infection may include:

  • Pain or soreness
  • Redness in the affected area
  • Fever
  • Feelings of warmth
  • Discolored skin or nails
  • A pus-filled blister
  • Thick, fragile, or cracked nails
  • Difficulty walking due to discomfort

Seek medical attention if any of these symptoms are present. It is important to note that the type of infection you have determines your symptoms.


There are many potential causes for infected toes, and they most commonly stem from a fungal or bacterial infection.

Fungal Toe Infections

Fungal toe infections are a type of infection in which a fungus grows in and around the toenail.

Two of the most common fungal infections of the toe include:

  • Toenail fungus, also known as onychomycosis.
  • Athlete's foot, or tinea pedis: Commonly affects the space between the toes but can spread throughout the foot and toenails.

Fungi can live on the outer layers of the skin or on dead tissues of the hair or nails. Fungal toenails often stem from fungal infections on the feet and occur more commonly as people age.

People get fungal infections of the toe and toe nail from walking on damp surfaces or walking barefoot in public showers, pools, and bathroom floors.

Some people are more likely to get fungal toe infections than others, including adults or the elderly, and people with the following conditions:

  • An injury or trauma to the nail
  • Cutting a nail too short
  • Diabetes
  • Lower immune system due to illness or autoimmune disease
  • Venous insufficiency (poor circulation)
  • A fungal infection somewhere else on the body
  • Athletes
  • Chemotherapy patients

Preventing fungal foot infections is possible through the following:

  • Wearing clean socks
  • Keeping feet clean and dry
  • Not walking barefoot in public areas, especially bathrooms and locker rooms
  • Wearing flip-flops in public bathing and showering areas

Bacterial Infections

Bacterial infections in the toe are less common than fungal infections but can become very serious. If left untreated, a bacterial toe infection that enters the bloodstream can cause an extreme response called sepsis, which is a life-threatening medical emergency.

Bacterial infections start due to a break in the outer layer of the skin or other injuries. For example, an ingrown toenail can damage the skin around the toenail and cause a bacterial infection.

Types of bacterial infections in the toe include:

  • Cellulitis: A common bacterial skin infection that causes redness, pain, and swelling
  • Erythrasma: A bacterial infection that appears like a discolored patch often occurs in skin folds or between the toes.
  • Paronychia: An infection around a toenail that causes swelling, redness, pus, and pain.
  • Abscess: an infection of the soft tissue that causes the pooling of pus beneath the skin.
  • Osteomyelitis: A bacterial infection that affects the bone.

Bacterial infections that can affect the toes are more common in people who:


You need to see a healthcare provider for a diagnosis. Types of providers that commonly make this type of diagnosis include primary care providers, dermatologists, and podiatrists.

Your healthcare provider will typically perform a physical examination and take note of any symptoms. In most cases, they can make a diagnosis with a visual examination. They usually won't require diagnostic tests and X-rays. However, in rarer cases, they may order imaging scans such as:

Your provider may also order blood testing to confirm the diagnosis and to rule out other conditions. In addition, they may also collect a sample of fluid or tissue from the affected toe to examine in a lab.

When healthcare providers confirm a diagnosis, either visually or through testing, they can tailor treatment options to your specific infection.


Treatment for an infected toe depends on the type of infection. Fungal and bacterial infections require different treatments and medications.

Treatment for a fungal infection of the toe includes:

  • Trimming any affected nails. In some cases, your healthcare provider may scrap away debris under the nail
  • Topical fungal infection medications, which may consist of (Odenil) amorolfine, Loprox (ciclopirox), or Jubila (efinaconazole)
  • Antifungal oral pills such as Diflucan (fluconazole), Gris-PEG (griseofulvin), or Terbinafine
  • Nail removal in cases of severe infections or not responding to therapy

Nail fungus can be hard to clear and take several months to go away. Sometimes the entire nail must grow out, which can take 12–18 months. Also, healthcare providers may choose a combination of therapies to treat a fungal infection more effectively.

Treatment for a bacterial infection of the toe includes:

  • Topical ointment or cream antibiotic medication
  • Oral antibiotic medication
  • If the bacterial infection contains pus, treatment may include draining the pus


Toe infections can cause uncomfortable and unpleasant symptoms such as redness, swelling, pain, itching, and discharge. If left untreated or undetected early enough, these infections can lead to more severe health issues or spread to other body parts.

The great news is that you can manage toe infections effectively with proper treatment and care. It is important to promptly address any toe infection symptoms with your healthcare provider to prevent worsening or further complications.

13 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Centers for Disease Control. Fungal diseases.

  2. MedlinePlus. Fungal nail infection.

  3. Gupta AK, Stec N. Recent advances in therapies for onychomycosis and its managementF1000Res. 2019;8:968. doi: 10.12688/f1000research.18646.1

  4. MedlinePlus. Athlete's foot.

  5. Centers for Disease Control. Fungal nail infections.

  6. Centers for Disease Control and Infection. What is sepsis?

  7. Centers for Disease Control. Cellulitis.

  8. American Osteopathic College of Dermatology. Erythrasma.

  9. Mount Sinai. Paronychia.

  10. Carek PJ, Dickerson LM, Sack JM. Diagnosis and management of osteomyelitis. AAFP Home.

  11. MedlinePlus. Skin infections.

  12. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Nail fungus: diagnosis and treatment.

  13. MedlinePlus. Staphylococcal infections.

By Sarah Jividen, RN
Sarah Jividen, RN, BSN, is a freelance healthcare journalist and content marketing writer at Health Writing Solutions, LLC. She has over a decade of direct patient care experience working as a registered nurse specializing in neurotrauma, stroke, and the emergency room.