What are the symptoms of early stages of toenail fungus?
By Kathleen Coggshall, MD Aug 25, 2022 • 3 min
Toenail fungus can cause an infection with unpleasant symptoms. It can be useful to understand the early stage symptoms of a toenail fungal infection so that you can start treatment right away.
Toenail fungus can affect any nail on the foot, although it's often found on the big toe. The early signs of the condition can vary from person to person. In fact, athlete's foot is a known risk factor for toenail fungus. Because of this, the earliest stages of toenail fungus may also point to the signs and symptoms of athlete's foot, including itchy, dry, scaly feet.
What happens when a toenail is infected with fungus?
The symptoms of the early stages of toenail fungus can vary from a single discolored spot to itchy, scaly skin around the nail.
When the fungus first infects the toenail, it may only affect the nail bed, which is located directly under the nail itself. This can cause redness, inflammation and itching. As the body tries to get rid of the fungus, the skin in the nail bed sheds, which can manifest as pits or yellow spots in the nail plate—an early sign of toenail fungus. A discolored spot then tends to expand as the fungal organism invades into and over the toenail. The toenail may eventually separate from the nail bed, if left untreated.
What are other signs of toenail fungus?
Thickened, brittle, cracked or yellow nails can also signal toenail fungus. As the fungus invades, the toenail can become increasingly thick and distorted. Debris may accumulate under the nail and cause it to lift off the skin.
Other inflammatory conditions of the toenail, such as psoriasis or lichen planus, can look identical to toenail fungus, from its earliest stages to its more chronic form. Since the treatment for these conditions is different, it's important to seek advice from your healthcare provider who will be able to evaluate any changes in the toenails.
Published August 2022.