More often than not, people who notice symptoms of toenail fungus, such as thickened, yellowing nails,  also notice an odor of cheese from their feet. Since the two appear together, most people assume that the odor is also caused by toenail fungus. However, as is the case in many phenomena in the real world, correlation does not mean causation.  This means that while the cheese-like odor from your feet and toenail fungus may be linked, one is not directly a cause or product of the other. 

To understand the link between the two, let us first learn what exactly these two conditions are. Toenail fungus is – as the name implies – a fungal infection. It is caused by a group of fungi known as dermatophytes, which is the same type of fungus that causes fungal infections of the skin such as athlete’s foot and jock itch. Toenail fungus occurs when fungal spores are able to penetrate the nail and grow on the nail bed. When it gets its ideal dark and damp environment, which is usually the inside of our shoes, it reproduces and feeds on the nail, thus infecting the nail with toenail fungus and creating the characteristic change in color and texture of the nail that we associate with toenail fungus. 

On the other hand, the cheese-like odor of the feet is caused not by a fungus, but rather a bacterium. Brevibacterium is the genus of bacteria responsible for this odor, and it is also this bacteria that is used in certain smelly cheeses and gives them their smell. The reason that toenail fungus and the smell from brevibacterium occur together so frequently is because the same dark and damp conditions that promote fungal growth also promote bacterial growth. So while the cheese-like odor is not directly caused by toenail fungus, it can be an indicator of an infection. 

If you notice a cheese-like smell from your feet, or any other signs of toenail fungus, contact us today to schedule a free consultation with one of our doctors. We have over 120 locations nationwide, including Charlotte, NC.