What Causes Yellow Toenails?

Ugh! You hate looking at your toenails – they are yellow and ugly! Yellow toenails can be the result of various conditions, personal habits, or diseases. The discoloration can affect one toe, a couple of toes, or all of them. The amount of yellowness can also vary. You should realize that the condition of your toenails can be an indication of your body’s overall health. So, just because your discolored toenails are usually covered by your socks and shoes is no reason to forget about them. Here are some causes of yellow toenails.

There is a Fungus Among Us!

A fungus infection is by far the most common cause of yellow toenails and once getting a start can spread rather rapidly. In fact, toenail fungus is so widespread that there even is a Global Nail Fungus Organization. Their website has some pictures of affected toenails. Here are some reasons why your feet may be infiltrated by fungus.

  • Wearing sweaty socks for too long and/or shoes fashioned from materials that don’t “breathe.” This allows sweat to mix with bacteria. And, don’t forget to always dry wet shoes before wearing them again.
  • Not washing your feet frequently, especially during hot and/or humid days when sweat builds up quickly. After washing, always dry your toes thoroughly.
  • Never giving your toenails a chance to air out. Fungi love warm, moist, dark places such as the toe boxes of shoes.
  • Not keeping toenails clean and well-trimmed. (But don’t cut them too short.)
  • Going barefoot in wet, public areas such as the shower area at your gym.
  • Sharing towels, bathmats or clothes with anyone having a fungal infection.

Other Causes of Yellow Toenails

Apart from fungus, there may be other reasons why your toenails have that unhealthy yellow hue. Here’s a list of some of them.

  • Viruses – Growths under the nail caused by viruses – e.g. warts.
  • Trauma – E.g., hitting your toenail against shoes that are too small. (Severe trauma may even separate the toenail from the underlying skin tissue.)
  • Medications – Certain medications can change the color of your toenails.
  • Lymphedema (fluid retention and tissue swelling in the leg).
  • Circulation problems, a weakened immune system, or diabetes.
  • Yellow nail syndrome (YNS). This is discussed below.
  • Wearing toenail polish for too long. If you paint your toenails with a color involving yellow – think yellow, orange, or red, your nails may be stained yellow when you remove the polish.
  • Vitamin or nutritional deficiencies – To find out more, read this article from Podiatry Today.
  • Brittle or weak toenails.
  • Bacterial growth under the toenail.

Yellow Nail Syndrome (YNS)

YNS is, fortunately, a rare genetic disorder. The affected toenails will show a marked thickening and will be yellowish or greenish in color. Most patients will also suffer from pleural effusions (excess fluid surrounding the lungs and compromising breathing).

What Can My Podiatrist Tell me About my Yellow Toenails?

Your podiatrist can have a toenail biopsy performed. Don’t worry, it won’t hurt! A small piece of your toenail will be sent out to a lab for a PAS (Periodic Acid-Schif) stain. A PAS stain is a simple test that will help narrow down the reasons for your yellow toenails.

What’s the Best Treatment for Yellow Toenails?

  • If your nails are stained from polish, you simply have to wait for the nails to grow out.
  • If you have a fungal infection, your podiatrist will determine the proper treatment based on its severity and extent. You may be advised to use over the counter medication, a prescribed topical anti-fungal cream, a medicated polish, or an oral antifungal medication. Apply the medication as instructed and be patient. In extreme cases, surgical removal of the toenails may be necessary.
  • If the discoloration is the result of an underlying condition such as diabetes, it may be necessary to gain more control over your health to see any improvement.

Do You Or A Family Member Need The Help Of An Experienced Podiatrist In The Caldwell Or Meridian, Idaho Area?

If you're seeking the help of an experienced podiatrist you owe it to yourself to speak with our doctors as soon as possible. Please feel free to contact us online or call our office directly at 208.855.5955 to schedule your appointment. We service all areas surrounding Meridian, Idaho as well as all areas in the Caldwell, Idaho area. We look forward to helping you!

Dr. P. Roman Burk
Providing experienced private practice podiatry services in the Caldwell and Meridian, ID area since 2007.