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The response to the question below was authored by Marc Mitnick DPM

Cellulitis on toes

by Elyssa

Right Toes

Right Toes

I am a 28 yr old female, 7 1/2 mo. pregnant. A few months ago I began to have some redness with very mild itching/burning on the toes of both feet, but it wasn't bothersome so I didn't do anything about it. About 2 weeks ago, my toes had become swollen and tender with noticeable itching, so I started using athlete's foot cream, assuming a fungal infection. The condition seemed to worsen, with my left 1st (big), 2nd, and 3rd toes increasingly tender and my right 2nd and 4th toes darkening to a lovely shade of purple. I noticed 2 circular marks that resemble flat blisters, on one toe of each foot. I saw our family practitioner yesterday, he assumed fungal infection-turned-cellulitis and gave me a prescription for Keflex. He said if the antibiotics don't clear it up, he'll send me to a podiatrist. Wondered if you could tell me what else it might be, and what else I should do besides the antibiotics (creams or not, keep feet covered/uncovered, etc)?

Hi Elyssa,

By just looking at the picture you uploaded and based on the itching and burning you describe it might be athletes foot. It appears as if some of the blisters could be drained, if so you would notice a gooey kind of liquid come out; that would be consistent with athletes foot.
I see you live in Colorado and therefore can assume it has been cold as of late. I am wondering if you have a similar discoloration at the end of the toes just beneath the nails. (I cannot tell from the picture) If that is the case you would also have to entertain superficial frostbite as the problem. Typically, when exposed to cold, the end to the toes will become bluish-red, there will be burning but generally not itching.
If the toes do not respond to the topical antifungal and oral Keflex then you might want to think along the lines of superficial frostbite. I think a visit to a podiatrist would be appropriate to get a definitive diagnosis.
I hope this helps.
Marc Mitnick DPM

Comments for Cellulitis on toes

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May 05, 2019
I don't think it's frostbite, or celuitis
by: Tammy

Just be looking at your pictures, one might think thst, but after hearing your description and symptoms, I'm guessing it is chilblains, I would talk to your doctor about it, I have the same thing on both my feet, and I thought it was just eczema that may be infected or hack celuitis, but it's chilblains, apparently it's caused from temperature change going from cold to warm, it can also be from bad circulation which can happen when your pregnant, I was told to stop walking around on cold floors barefoot, or outside on cold ground, I hope you got it figured out, it can be very itchy and painful so I've found out, take care of your tootsies😊

Jul 22, 2018
Cellulitis on toes and similar reaction tol Ibuprofenon my fingers.
by: Philip

I am a 60 year old male and it's taken me a while to get the hang of web searches but how pleased I persisted . I have cried in the night because of hellishly itchy toes. I ended up in A&E one morning after tearing my skin so badly. Didn't get a diagnosis at the time. I have similar blister like spots on the side of my fingers and I'm confident that it's ibuprofen that my body is reacting to. I use it rarely to treat migraine headache. I had a severe migraine headache yesterday , took ibuprofen last night and my hands are both sporting these itchy spots in corresponding locations. Both my thumbs have reactions on the outsides and on the knuckle . I hope now I can get some treatment for both conditions and have a better life as a result

Feb 08, 2015
Dishydrotic Eczema
by: Anonymous

Hopefully you are still checking comments on your toe issue. Because you stated that it was itchy and was like a flat blister and the picture shows redness you could have dishydrotic eczema. It can happen for no apparent reason and was at one time thought to be an issue with sweat glands. It can occur do to seasonal change, stress or hormones. Example, pregnancy, menstrual cycle, winter weather. It can also occur on hands, finger tips and creases of fingers and become extremely itchy to the point that it can cause sores do to the constant need to itch it.. Itching or pressing on the toes seems to cause pain. If you feel that this is what it could be,try an over the counter hydrocortizone cream(steroid cream) and let you feet breathe, free from socks and shoes intermittently.

Jan 20, 2015
RED TOES PAIN all year
by: Anonymous

I have the symptoms in winter and summer. I wear open toe shoes in the summer which helps to keep it down, but in the winter, shoes, boots hurt, and can't put socks on at all. It seems that the cold actually helps them calm down. When I take a shower in warm water, I try to keep my feet back as much as possible. The warm water makes them hurt more after I come out of the water. Sticking them in cold water used to help, but no so much now. Have seen podiatrist,dermatologist,family doctor,endocrinologist, and my rheumatologist. No one has a clue. Just experimental injections, clobetasol, and that's it. Very painful when it is flared up. Can frostbite affect you in the summer also

This sounds like vasospastic/vasodilation problem when exposed to extremes in temperature your small arteries in the toes react to this and cause the discoloration and pain.
I think a vascular specialist is best suited to treat this.
Marc Mitnick DPM

Dec 15, 2013
by: Anonymous

2 of my toes look like this - one on each foot, but now both big toes are starting to swell too.
It started with one toe, only swelling, no redness or any other symptoms. I went to the drs and was told it might be an overuse injury from exercise. I rested it, elevated and iced it with no reduction in the swelling. Then the other toe started swelling too after a week and a half. Last week, starting only once a day for like an hour, they swollen toes would each near the nail then it would stop. Also noticed the first swollen toe has a red rash with some skin puckering down the right side of it. Other then skin changes, no other sxs - hot to touch or pain. Went back to the MD and they said its probably fungal and gave me a cream. Its been 3 days on the cream and my toes are getting worse. Im doubting the infection and wondering if it could be cellulitis? Any ideas?

Oct 27, 2011
by: Anonymous

I went to the doctor with the exact same problems. It was Cellulitis. They told me not to wear open toed shoes. They also gave me real strong antibiotics. Mine ended up turning into MRSA (Staff Infection). So please take it serious.

Mar 10, 2011
same here
by: Anonymous

I have also been having this problem, it only happens in the winter time. I am the type of person who likes to hop in a really hot shower after being freezing cold. I think I have poor circulation like everone else seems to have on this site. This never used to happen to me. I wonder why it just all of a sudden happens. it started when i was 22 and now im 27 & it never fails, every winter I get this itchy swollen purple blistery disaster on my toes. But once it starts gettin warmer im good. I wonder if I move to Hawaii will I not have this problem anymore?

Feb 25, 2011
by: Anonymous

Look up Chillblains. It is caused by letting your toes get cold and them warming them up too quickly which causes damage to the capillaries. Some people get this every winter. You can also get chillblains on your face, nose and ears or fingers.

Feb 05, 2011
Mine is slightly different
by: darksilverjesse

My "interesting" circumstance is an itching sensation under the skin. between the joints. I have experience with athiletes foot and this is no athiletes foot. Take arthritis, mix it with an infection and deaden the nervous system. from this I've got low circulation so antibiotics weren't working. I have devised a cure that seems to be working, a mixture of 1% econazole nitrate and 1% tolnaftate, 10% alcohol, 10% hydrogen peroxide, 78% pure synthesized water. I've been applying the mixture to my foot for a week. I went from grey, bloody, itchy, burning toes. to a near healthy foot. just a few sores that some neosporin is clearing up. no more itching/burning/redness that was killing my foot. I don't know exactly why but it worked wonders.

Jun 16, 2010
I have it to, some facts if your taking antibioctics
by: Anonymous

I'm a 12 year old female girl from New Zealand and I have this infection right now. First I got blisters then I had a small mark which was itchy (which I thought was an itchy bite) But I was wrong. now my toe is red with a small faded purple in the middle and its very stiff on the top and bottom.It's been going on for 1 week and I have seen the doctors twice (soon three times) She said that there has been some flesh poising and she gave me some antibiotics. They're quiet large and I have to take four a day. She also added if this gets worst I will end up in hospital for two days with a drip in my arm OR it could get chopped off (which I'm very scared of epically at this age) I'm just hoping now that it will disappear

*I'm taking the antibiotics for 10 days, 4 a day
*I'm not allowed to eat after and before my pills for at least 1 hour

Jan 09, 2010
My toes exactly same
by: Red Toe Tom

The photo looks just like my toes... and it seems to be spreading. Went to my GP Doctor and he gave me a cream for fungal infection, but also an antibiotic to take orally. He (90%)believes it is mild frostbite but also holds (10%)possible could be some form of athletes foot. The effect decreases when I allow the toes to remain very cool or cold and with the unusual cold weather we are having in Texas this year that is easy. When they warm and are covered in shoes & socks the crazy itching and burning starts!!! As they are right this minute...Yikes!!! The very end and back toward the foot about 1/4 to 1/2 of each toe have red to magenta-purple patches, some swollen

The Nurse's diagnoses sounds very interesting since blood pooling in the damaged area of the toes after mild frostbite makes a lot of sense. Also the fact itch/burn returns always when I am seated or standing, as would be expected if gravity pushed blood downward and it seems to abate when I elevate the feet. I am not sure if the anti-fungal cream is helping or hurting.

This is the first time I have had this and it is alarming... especially since in February I must start the art show circuit again and stand on my feet for hours at a time. I think that's where they froze in the first darn place. YepSirreee, It will be hard to sell art between gritted teeth, LOL.

My heart goes out to each and every one of you.... Good luck!

Dec 25, 2009
by: Been There

I am 54 and have suffered from this since I was 20. It happens in the winter. My feet go through cycles of heating and cooling. Then I get an itchy area, a red bump, swollen areas and then severe itching. My feet also feel too hot during an episode. After the itchy period of a week or two the affected toes turn kind of purple/black. It only happens on my middle toes. I've asked doctors who are baffled but after years of research I'm 100% sure it is chilblains. I've had two years where it affected my fingers. I was prescribed Clobetesol (sp?), a very strong steroid cream for another problem and decided to try it on my toes. It worked absolute miracles, stopped the itching and reversed the process pretty quickly. I now use it faithfully during the winter at the first sign of itching. It's definitely a circulatory disorder as I also have Raynaud's phenomenon. The only year I didn't have it was the year I quit smoking. I would recommend trying an over the counter cortisone cream at the first sign of an outbreak.

Sep 23, 2009
It's Cellulitis
by: Anonymous

I have this EXACT same thing right now in my left baby toe, and was researching it online to see if there was any additional information available. I got a blister not too long ago from a pair of ill-fitting shoes, and it happened to get infected. I went to med express and was told that it was indeed cellulitis, and was put on antibiotics to help it. Soaking it in warm water and elevating it also helps.

Hope that answers a few of your questions!

Sep 13, 2009
by: Anonymous

this looks and sounds to me like the start of Dyshidrotic ( Pompholyx ) eczema. it came on me suddenly in my late twenty's. i have been close to being admitted to hospital with it on several occasions. I discovered after suffering for over ten years what was causing it............trainers.
There is no cure, i just learned to deal with it, and wear the type of trainers that enable my feet to 'breathe'.
After a few years it developed on my hands too. A tell tale sign is 'pitting' of the finger nails. I had this symptom long before it broke out on my hands. The good news tho, is that it does not occur anywhere else on the body.
It may be worth looking into. It took the doctors years to agree what I had, even one treatng me for athletes foot, just to 'humour' him.

Jul 07, 2009
I've had the same thing once
by: Anonymous

A few years ago I had the same thing, it was also during the winter time, but during a time where I was exercising rather heavily.

I'm pretty sure the cause of the swelling was because of poor blood circulation, because I was wearing somewhat tight shoes and socks; and I also think that the cold probably contributed to the problem. I have a habit of taking extremely hot showers, so I'm sure the extreme temp changes didn't help.

At the time, I was also worried that it may have been some sort of fungal infection, so I washed my feet carefully with room temperature water and applied some topical creams.

I have now gotten into the habit of massaging/washing/rubbing my feet daily after my shower, especially focusing on the toes, and the problem has never returned... though to be honest, I'm still not sure what exactly caused the problem

I've been problem-free for about 2 and a half years now =)

Mar 16, 2009
by: Anonymous

I have the exact same thing in this picture on my middle toe. They treated me with Keflex and antifungal ointment. Nothing is working. They thought it was paronychia but ruled that out now. I have been to the podiatrist and the dermatologist. Has anyone found anything out yet???

IF, your problem is superficial frostbite it will only clear up once the weather warms up. In the meantime you want to protect the toes from getting infected. Topical medication like bacitracin daily should protect the area.
Marc Mitnick DPM

Mar 04, 2009
by: Anonymous

Hey there. This looks just like chilblanes. I get these most winters as I have terrible circulation. I heard that this is more likely to ocur if your feet are going between extreems of hot and cold (I like to sit right next to the heater when my feet are freezing!) There is a homeopathic that i used to use which was quite good.

Jan 27, 2009
Nail-Technician with poor-looking toes? No Way!
by: Anonymous

I am a nail technician and I specialize in pedicures, manicures, and artificial nails. My duty is to keep my clients' nails healthy and looking nice. I've been suffering from this ugly thing on my toes for a little over a week now. The only image that I found that was similar to my toes was this one. It has been really cold over in Maryland for the last couple of months. It is my first time experiencing this type of cold weather. I was born and raised in Cali, so this is completely new to me. It's so cold that no matter how many layers I pile on, my body still aches. I went to see a nurse today and she claims that it is athletes foot. I don't believe it for a second, because I've dealt with clients who have had athletes foot before. I know what it looks like and if I had it, I would have spread it to my fiance's toes. My left 3rd toe started turning really red and several days later I started feeling a really itchy and burning sensation. Within the last couple of days, I then noticed that there are painful red marks at the tip of my big toes. My 3rd toe also turned really pale purple and blisters are forming as well. Can it be superficial frostbites? After doing research online, the closest thing that I came up with is frostbites. At first, I got overly paranoid and assumed that it was a staph infection since it has been a big problem lately. After reading articles after articles, I have become a believer of frostbites. Can you please confirm this? I'm embarassed about my toes, esp. because I'm a nail tech. Can you please help? What can I take to get rid of this? Any OTC drugs?

It certainly sounds like superficial frostbite but the best way to confirm the diagnosis would be for you to make an appointment to see a podiatrist.
Marc Mitnick DPM

Jan 14, 2009
by: nicole

i have the same thing, and i was told it might be Chilblains. i hope you get better (:

Jan 03, 2009
What the...
by: OUCH!!

I havent a clue what is going on with my feet, but you guys seem to be having the same problem. It started with just one toe, now its two on both feet. I live in Michigan and its cold right now. This has never happened to me before. I'm sure that I have poor circulation...considering that my toes are purple even in the summer, but they've never been swollen, achey and burning like this. I'm a 24 year old female...I'm supposed to have pretty feet :( lol. Anyone find any medication that seems to be working?

Dec 12, 2008
by: Uglytoes

I saw this one and only picture that popped up when I googled "red burning toes". I thought wow that looks exactly like my ugly disturbing toes!

* Red, swollen, mildly itchy, burns all the time!
* Only happens on two toes
* Only happens in winter
* Been like this for two years
* I live in CO. Wear snowboarding boots about 6 days a week.

It would make sense to have your condition evaluated by a doctor just to make sure it is nothing more serious.
Marc Mitnick DPM

My Questions:
* Is this just a poor circulation thing? Then why is only happening on two toes?
* IS there anything to do for it besides elevating and rubbing?
* IS this something I should get a medical opinion about (e.g. should I be worried they will fall off?)

Dec 03, 2008
I suffer from this too!
by: Anonymous

Ok, WOW! The picture here and others descriptions could be MY feet! (I'm a 34 year old female.) I was plagued with this for the first time earlier this year (when still cold) and just now again in the last few weeks (in the south so just now cold again.) Is it cause for concern, or is this just something I will suffer from the rest of my life? I feel great in the summer when I can live in my flip-flops!! Anyone ever heard of the supplement Pycnogenol? My parents swear by it and it is supposed to help with circulation.


Hi Tara,
The biggest concern with this type of problem is infection. If the skin tissue breaks down you run the risk of developing an infection, other than that it is not a serious problem in younger individuals. Older people need to be more concerned.
Pycnogenol as I understand it is used to lower cholesterol, I have never heard of it for circulation.
If you would like to try something that is reasonably harmless then you might try pomegranate which comes in capsule form.
In more severe cases of vasocontstriction we put people on a drug called Trental which allows for better blood flow through the constricted blood vessels. This is a drug that needs to be started three months before the onset of cold weather, however, if you are just suffering from the discoloration in your toes, I would suggest you leave well enough alone.
Marc Mitnick DPM

Nov 24, 2008
by: Anonymous

Hello, listen folks, I am a registerd nurse and this condition is "blood pooling". It happenes mainly in the winter because of the vasoconstricting effect cold has on the extremeties. It is actually a vacular disorder of sorts and can lead to ulcers "open skin wounds". Blood pooling is very irritating to the dermal layer of your skin and this contributes to the burning itching sensation. When pregnant, you may experience temporary vascular disorders. Smokers and folks with with high cholesteral may also periodically suffer from this condition. I promise you, from this picture I am 100% positive that this is the case. I am currently suffering from this myself cause it's winter time. I raise my feet to let the blood drain and massage them. When my feet arent inflamed I keep them warm so I dont re constrict the vessels.

Sep 02, 2008
winter toe
by: Anonymous

i have the same thing, it hurts!! i do not know what it is either. i call it winter toe, i mostly get it when my toes are cold, sticks around 4 days - 2 weeks.

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Dr. Mitnick, Just want to say thank you so very much for your quick response and very informative reply! After reading what you had to say, I called the doctor's office and was able to get in and see him the same day as my injury. Toe was x-rayed and luckily, it is not broken or fractured. Very badly bruised and will probably lose the toe nail. And although my toe and toe nail are still very black and blue and very sore, they ARE both starting to feel a little better. So again, thank you! I am so very happy that I came across your website. The service you provide is outstanding and immeasurable!


Albany, NY

Thank you so much for all of your advice. In searching the web for people dealing with this same issue i can tell you that you are a Knight In shining Armor! If I lived in Jersey I would gladly be your Spokesperson. Hopefully next time you hear from me it will be good news. God Bless,

Jill S.

location unknown



Whichita, KS

thanks again, this site is very helpful.


Boston, MA

Like others have stated...This site is amazing and I am so thankful that it was created.

....Keep up what your doing. Your a life saver.



Thanks again for the information provided on your site. It's easy for non-medical folk to understand your writing, and helps provide better communication between patient and doctor.



Wonderful advice

by: Anonymous

This is the best site for foot problem info.

Thank you for this information. This description fits my pain and inflammation behind my 2nd toe perfectly.

by: Max

location unknown
Again, I really appreciate that you responded to my inquiry, and that your mention of Parkinson's helped me to find my way to a diagnosis of this difficult to diagnose disease. Most patients see on average 16 doctors before they are diagnosed. I hope that you can help other people that ask for your expertise in the future.

Barb D.

I just wanted to say that I am very greatful for this website!! I have had a fusion in my rt foot and am finally getting a little bit better......


location unknown
Again, Thank you from the bottom of my heart for taking the time to answer my question....your an angel!


Thank you for your response. You have provided some great insight (to my question)....


location unknown
Thank-you so very much for responding so quickly and in such detail to my question!! I will give my surgeon a call today!! This website is terrific!!!! Thank-you again!


North Carolina
Many Thanks Dr Marc!
Thank you for your response. It sounds like a good plan to me. He did not cut the wart out first ...


location unknown

Thanks again doc for having this website and we STILL need qualified Podiatrists in beautiful sunny Tampa Bay (Bradenton) Florida.

Bessie Mae

Dear Dr. Mitnick, Thank you so very much for taking your time to answer my question. You have greatly relieved my anxiety related to the continual tingly I feel in my feet. I will share your response with my podiatrist next week. God bless you for having this question and answer page on your website! Most gratefully,

Lynne T.

location unknown
Your webpage is excellent, I commend you on sharing your knowledge to the public.


New Jersey

Thank you. you were more detailed than what others have told me they finally called from the last xrays and my son is now in a cast for 2 weeks he did have a fracture that was not noticeable.

a mom

location unknown

I have read your website and I have to admit that I am amazed at all the information that is on here. I have learned more than the three years I have been going to several doctors that I have seen!!


Lenoir, NC

Thank you so much Doc for a quick and thorough response!


Bellevue, WA

I cannot thank you enough for your response, opinion, and suggestions! I want you to know how much it means to me, and I'm sure everyone else who has ever asked you a question! I feel like you're a lifesaver and have empowered me to take a stronger role and stand up for myself and my feet!


location unknown

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