Fungus is a microscopic organism that is more akin to a plant than an animal, and, like bacteria, it can invade human tissue and cause an infection. While fungus can cause serious infections in the internal part of the body, it usually infects the superficial tissue. This tissue includes skin, hair follicles, and nails. In the foot, fungus can cause athlete’s foot infection, ringworm, and nail infections.
Athlete’s foot infection and ringworm are skin infections, and can lead to red, dry, and itchy areas on the skin. Athlete’s foot infection is usually on the bottom of the foot and in between the toes. Ringworm, which is not actually a worm but is called so because of the ring-like pattern that forms on the skin, often will occur on top of the foot. Infections can be passed in areas that people are barefoot and there is moisture, like showers, locker rooms, and areas around pools and hot tubs. Since fungus is common in our environment, it can also be picked up at home. These infections are easily treated with topical anti-fungal medications. Over-the-counter medications usually remove the infection, although some people need prescription anti-fungal medications to get rid of the infection completely.
Nail fungus is caused by the same organism, and often starts as a skin infection that simply moves into the skin underneath the nail. Nail fungus infections can lead to thick, discolored, and crumbly nails that can also be painful with pressure. These nails can loosen, and sometimes fall off. Nail fungus is particularly difficult to treat because the fungus is found under the nail, and not on the top surface. Medication therefore has a difficult time penetrating down into the space where the fungus lives. Because of this, oral anti-fungal medication or specialized oil-based topical medications must be used to treat the infection, and daily treatment is needed for at least three months in the very best case.