Yellow Discoloration of Toenails

It is not normal to have yellow toenails. Such nails are indicative of some pathology going on in your body, and so, they require evaluation by a doctor.

Common Causes That Lead to Yellow Nails

Fungal Infection

Yellow nails are often due to fungal infestations. Fungus loves warm, moist and dark places.

In athletes and other people who wear shoes most of the time, toenails stay in warm dark shoes, moistened by sweat for long hours. This makes ground for fungal growth.

One or more toenail may be affected. The nail appears thickened, with some sort of debris underneath it. It is yellowish and dull in appearance. Some fungus may give a greenish tinge of color too.

If left untreated, the nail may slowly get brittle and flaky. It becomes weak and may start shedding.

Too Much Use of Nail Paints and Nail Polish Removers

A common cause is using too much of nail polishes and nail paint removing solutions on your nails. This erodes away the outer most nail covering, leaving behind dull looking, yellowish nails.

If you use nail polishes, it is necessary to give nail polish free intervals to your nails. Let this be at least a week in a month. During this time, let the nail breathe and regain its natural luster.


Yellowing of nails may be an early sign of diabetes. As diabetes slowly affects the internal organs like heart, brain, nerves etc., it may give some superficial symptoms too.

If you have an itchy skin, feel thirsty too often or you require to change your spectacles again and again, you need to be tested for diabetes.

Also, diabetes may weaken your immune system, making it vulnerable to the growth of fungus at various places like, toenails, genitals, oral cavity etc.

Liver Diseases

The color of the nails turn white to yellow- white in long standing liver problems.

Yellow Nail Syndrome

This is a rare genetic disorder where yellowing of nails accompany lymph edema.

There is presence of fluid in the pleural cavity (pleural effusion) and localized collections of fluid (edema) over the skin.

The patient has a compromised breathing and looks pale.

Certain Medications

Some medicines, like tetracycline, may turn your nails yellowish in color. Withdrawal of the drug restores back the natural color of the nails.


If you have yellow toenails, get them evaluated by a podiatrist at the earliest. A diagnosis needs to be made about the cause of yellowish discoloration of your toenails. The cause of yellow nails is then treated accordingly.

Preventing and Treating Fungal Infection in Toenails

  • Wash your toenails daily and keep them dry and well ventilated for as long hours as possible. Don’t let moisture get deposited near your toenails. Moisture promotes fungal growth.
  • Wear good quality sports shoes, made up of breathable material. Wear cotton socks only and change it very frequently during games or phases of excess physical activities.
  • Avoid walking bare foot in moist or wet floors for long, as near swimming pools etc.
  • Avoid sharing towels or personal clothing. Keep your bath towels clean and dry.
  • Once you get a fungal infection on your toenail, antifungals need to be used. For milder infections, use Cicloprox or Mycocide NS. They are available in the form of a nail polish which you need to apply on the affected toenail daily for 6 to 9 months.
  • Fungus are usually very stubborn and may take an year to go away completely. Keep trimming away the affected toenail to throw away debris and fungus from it.
  • An exfoliant is available to clear away fungal debris deposited underneath the nail. It comes by the name Nonyx Nail Gel. It breaks down the deposited debris and helps in early cleaning up of the nail. It also alters the pH of the area, making it unfavorable for fugal growth.
  • As the infested nail sheds away, new healthy nail grows from within. It is beneficially to eat healthy during the course of treatment. If you are weak or immunocompromised, the fungus may take longer to go.
  • Eat more of fresh fruit, vegetables, whole grains and milk. Avoid junk food and caffeine in drinks. Also, it is beneficial to take vitamin E and zinc supplement during the course of treatment.
  • For more severe fungal infection, oral antifungal medication are given, such as Sporanox or Lamisil tablets.

Medical Advice (Q&As) on “Yellow Discoloration of Toenails

  1. Jolissa

    Doctor, I have noticed that quite frequently my big toe nails would hurt ( a prickling feeling). I inspected them and notice that in the corners look black. When I smell it, it smells bad. The other toes are fine except the piggy ones which are completely black. The surface has ridges and instead of being flat and smooth, they are a bit bumpy. Even when I cut them, they (Big and Piggy toes) grow back with this black area. What could this be?

    1. Buddy M.D. Post author

      It’s likely to be due to repeated small traumas over your nail margins.

      Check if your shoes are tight, not wide enough, or if you are banging your toe against something. Also, keep your toe nail trimmed.

      Due to repeated small injuries, blood may get collected on the sides of the toe nail to give a blackened color.

      1. Jolissa

        Hey My mom has Big toes that have the same black color at the sides, the only difference is that in the center of her toe nail isn’t pink, IT’S SNOW WHITE! you think that’s trauma too? If so why is the center snow white?

      2. Jolissa

        Hey Doc, My mom has Big toes that have the same black color at the sides, the only difference is that in the center of her toe nail isn’t pink, IT’S SNOW WHITE!! You think that’s trauma too? If so why is the center snow white?

          1. Jolissa

            No, her toe is perfectly flat and nice. She has lovely toe nails. It’s just that they are really white. My Big toenails on the other hand are thickened and losing their shine but they still have pink in them.

          2. Buddy M.D. Post author

            Her toe nails appear to be healthy. The black discoloration may be due to some nail enamel being used by her.

  2. Jp

    Doctor I noticed that the corners of my both toenails are becoming white. The white is vertically throughout the corner of the toes.
    I don’t have any pain.
    Why they are turning white.