There’s something about toenails that’s just inherently gross. Maybe it’s their sunlight-starved pallor. Or maybe they’re too obvious a reminder that we descended from reptiles. Maybe it’s the fact that it’s a lot of work to maintain decent-looking toenails.
1. Toenail Fungus
This slow-growing fungal infection affects toenails as well as the skin beneath them, causing nail discoloration as well as thickening, brittleness, and crumbling.
Also known as onychomycosis, it’s caused by the same fungi that’s responsible for athletes foot. In fact, people are prone to athlete’s foot may be more likely to experience fungal infections, though anyone can get them. Older people, as well as individuals with certain chronic illnesses, including diabetes, are also more susceptible to toenail fungus.
Toenail fungus can be kind of hard to treat because the infection is actually below the nail. Topical antifungal creams and oral medication are among the most effective treatment options. Laser treatment for toenail fungus, which was recently approved by the FDA, seems promising.
2. Ingrown Toenails
Ingrown toenails may be the most painful toe problem on this list. They occur when the edge of the toenail — typically the big toe — starts to grow into the surrounding skin. Pain, swelling, redness, and sometimes pus are common signs that something isn’t quite right with your toe.
What causes this uncomfortable toe problem? According to the Cleveland Clinic, cutting toenails too short is among the most common causes. Other causes include socks or footwear that are too tight, abnormal anatomy or bone growth, trauma to the toenail, and occasionally, pedicures.
Treatment usually involves having a podiatrist cut out the ingrown part of the toenail removed — with a local anesthetic, of course. This quickly relieves pain, but often, ingrown toenails are a recurring problem. For pesky ingrown nails, removing the nail is sometimes the most permanent solution.
3. Toenail Trauma
Stubbing your toe or dropping something heavy on it can damage the matrix, or nail growth center. This can cause some unsettling changes in the appearance of your toenail, including red, black, or purple discoloration below the surface of the nail. The toenail might thicken or even fall off. Ew.
But blunt trauma to the toe isn’t the only cause — shoe friction can also cause what is formally known as subungual hematoma. It’s a condition that’s common among hikers and marathon runners.
Miraculously, your toenail may simply heal itself. Though the nail may come loose or fall off, often part of it stays intact. The discoloration should fade as it grows out.
Of course, you should definitely see a doctor if you want to rule out a fracture or you’re experiencing intense pain, swelling, or redness on your toe.
[Image via Getty]