• Toenail fungus, or onychomycosis, is an infection triggered by the presence of fungal organisms called dermatophytes. Several factors may contribute to an environment that allows dermatophytes to multiply and thrive.


    According to Aetna InteliHealth and the Harvard Medical School, dermatophytes commonly responsible for toenail infections include Trichophyton rubrum and Trichophyton interdigitale. Additional potential causes include molds and yeast.

    Dermatophyte Entry

    Dermatophytes typically enter the skin through separations between the toenail and nail bed, or through small, invisible cuts, according to the Mayo Clinic.

    Dermatophyte-Friendly Environments

    Dermatophytes thrive in warm, wet environments. The American Academy of Family Physicians notes factors in the development of toenail fungus that include frequent wearing of heavy work boots and walking barefoot on locker room floors.

    Additional Risk Factors

    Additional risk factors for toenail fungus include wearing tight shoes or hosiery, foot circulatory problems, wearing toenail polish and chronic illnesses such as diabetes or HIV/AIDS.


    Some individuals develop toenail fungus without exposure to any of the common risk factors.


    Aetna InteliHealth: Harvard Medical School: Toenail Fungus (Onychomycosis)

    Mayo Clinic: Nail Fungus: Causes

    American Academy of Family Physicians: Fungal Infections of Fingernails and Toenails

    More Information:

    Cleveland Clinic: Toenail Fungus

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