Yellow toenails are unsightly, of course. But they might mean you’re dealing with something more than just an aesthetic problem. Are yellow toenails a cause for concern? What leads to this type of discoloration, and what can you do to deal with the issue?
Read on to learn more about the causes of yellow toenails, ways to tackle the problem, and some preventative tips that could help keep the discoloration from coming back.
Common Causes of Yellow Toenails
Whether you have yellow toenails or yellow fingernails, the best way of addressing the issue is to find out why it’s happening in the first place. Here are some of the more common culprits:
Nail polish can make toes look great. But over time, it can lead to discoloration. Red nail polish, in particular, can leave a yellow stain with extended wear. If you have yellow toenails and use a lot of nail polish, it can also make it hard for air to get under your nails. This can sometimes lead to the development of a fungus that can lead to yellow toenails.1
As you get older, your nails change quite a bit. Not only do they change in color, leading to yellow toenails, but also in thickness. Their shape can even go through significant changes during the aging process.2
One of the more common causes of yellow toenails is infection due to fungus. Your feet are typically in a moist environment, since they’re usually covered by socks and shoes all day. This is the perfect setting for a fungus to thrive. When moisture gets trapped in your toes, fungi have an easy time breeding. You might be dealing with a fungal infection if your nails are thickening, turning yellow, or if the nails’ shape is distorted, or ragged. Other signs of a possible fungal infection include pit marks in the nails, splitting of the nails, and a foul odor.
In some instances, the causes of yellow toenails are medical problems. Here are a few examples:
Elevated Blood Sugar Levels
People with elevated levels of sugar in their blood are susceptible to many different health problems that are much more serious than yellow toenails. But if you notice your nails are taking on a yellowish tone, you may want to see a doctor. When blood sugar levels are too high, a person is at a higher risk for infections. And one of the main causes of yellow toenails is a fungus infection, which is more common in those who have elevated blood sugar levels. A seemingly minor infection can lead to devastating consequences in some instances.4
Lymphatic System Issues
The lymphatic system performs the important role of helping your body rid itself of toxins. Its main job is to move a fluid known as lymph through the body. Lymph contains white blood cells that your body needs to fight infections.5
Sometimes, though, your lymphatic system can become blocked.
This keeps lymph from moving as it should. When this happens, this can lead to swelling in the arms and legs, making them more prone to an infection. When an infection reaches the legs, that can lead to yellow toenails.6
Yellow Nail Syndrome
This is a mysterious condition that can lead not only to discolored toenails, but also respiratory issues and swelling of the legs. It typically affects people age 50 and older. Unfortunately, researchers have not been able to pinpoint the exact causes of this issue. There is some research that suggests genetics could be one of the causes of discolored toenails.7
Methods of Dealing With Yellow Toenails
If your toenails turn yellow, you should visit your doctor to determine the potential causes. If your doctor says that the discoloration is not due to any severe medical issue, there are some things you can try at home that could get your nails back to their normal color.
Hydrogen peroxide – Hydrogen peroxide is a well-known household product commonly used as a disinfectant for killing fungi and other harmful microbes. If an infection is the cause of your discolored nails, hydrogen peroxide might help them get back to normal.8
Try diluting some hydrogen peroxide with water, and then dip a toothbrush into the mixture. Scrub each nail gently. Soaking your feet in a mixture of hydrogen peroxide and water could also help.
Tea tree oil – Tea tree oil is sometimes effective in helping to get rid of nail discoloration that occurs due to a fungus. Dissolve some tea tree oil in water and then put a drop on each nail. Allow the oil/water mixture to sit on the nail for about two minutes, and then rinse with warm water.9
Always speak to your doctor first before you try any sort of home remedy.
Preventing the Problem
The best way to make sure you never have to deal with yellow toenails is to take some preventive steps. For example, always make sure your socks are clean and dry. This will help reduce the chances that moisture will accumulate to the point to where fungi can breed. Also, hold off on using nail polish for a week or two, and see if that helps.
Always thoroughly wash and dry your feet before you go to bed, and try to keep your toenails cut short, to keep fungus from getting underneath your nail beds.10
The Last Word
There are many potential causes of yellow toenails. Thankfully, though, there are also several ways of dealing with the problem. If you have any reason to suspect that one of the causes of your discolored nails is a health issue, talk to your doctor as soon as you can.
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