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Yellow Toenails

How to get rid of yellow toenails? Learn more about the symptoms, treatment, home remedies and causes of yellow toenails including diabetes, nail polish and so on.

What are Yellow Toenails?

Color changes in part or the whole body can be a very important indication of an individual’s health. Changes in body color especially if spontaneous and rapidly progressing should prompt a visit to a doctor for a clinical evaluation including a physical exam and possibly laboratory investigations. Most clinical presentations are usually cases doctors have seen before and most of them can make a diagnosis by just looking and prescribing appropriate medication. Examples of toenail discoloration include: toe nails turning black, green or yellow and at times the presence of white spots on the nail. This article discusses the appearance of yellow toenails on one foot, or in cases where the yellow toenails are on both feet; while exploring the possible causes. As you will see, the most common cause of yellow toenails can be easily managed, even at home, with doctor advice being sought mainly when there’s no discernible response to treatment or when the yellow toenails are due to a different underlying disease process.

Yellow toenails, especially if pathological, can be particularly bothersome to the patient because of its unsightly nature. This is also due to the embarrassment to participate in activities that involve being barefoot such as swimming, being at the beach, spa; to mention only a few. This may encourage excessive wearing of closed shoes to cover the affected toes, which may lead to a vicious cycle, further worsening the problem especially if the cause of the color change is fungal in origin. This is particularly important as fungal infection of the toenails is a common cause of yellow toes, and early identification of such a possibility as a patient may help prevent further toenail harm. This article addresses the problem that is yellow toe nails, the possible causes, the symptoms, treatment and possible home remedies that can be tried.

It is however important to note that there are other very common causes of toe nail changes that should not worry the patient; these include: use of nail polish and normal aging. Most nail polishes, particularly dark ones worn over long periods of time, can temporarily stain the toenails yellow. This may be a cause of worry to some; especially if you remember having just recently used a dark nail polish. The yellow hue that occurs afterwards is usually temporary and usually goes away after a few weeks. Taking a break from nail polish for a couple of weeks before using nail polish again and buffing may help in prevent the above.

Symptoms of Yellow Toenails

The yellow toe nails can be on one foot or both feet. The symptoms mainly depend on the underlying cause of the yellowness of the nails and the other nail abnormalities. With some causes presenting with only yellow nails while others also causing other associated nail abnormalities. Some of these nail changes are discussed under their causes above.

In summary, some of these nail abnormalities, other than yellowness of the nails includes:

  • Thickening of the nails
  • Crumbling of the nails
  • Brittleness of the nails
  • Separation of the nail from the nail bed, a process known as onycholysis and is usually due to chronic untreated nail infection.
  • Stinky sweaty feet
  • There may be pain in your toes, especially big toe pain.

Causes of Yellow Toenails

Some of the causes of yellow toe nails include:

Nail fungus

Also known as onychomycosis, this refers to the fungal infection of the nails and usually affects the toenails more compared to the fingernails; with the big toe being the most commonly affected. This is mainly because fungus usually thrives in warm, moist environments; an environment that can easily be provided by poor foot hygiene and closed shoes such as boots. Nail fungal infection is usually due to a group of fungus known as dermatophytes, but it may also be due to non-dermatophytes such as candida. As stated earlier, fungal infections are a common cause of yellow toenails and they can affect one or more toes on one or both feet. Other than the yellow discoloration of the toenails, fungal infection can result in the thickening of the toenails, the nails may crumble and break, and sometimes there may be pain. Fungal infections are also common in systemic conditions such as hypothyroidism, diabetes or peripheral arterial disease.

Normal aging

As we get older, the rate at which the body replaces old cells reduces and so does the blood supply to the nails. This also affects the nails causing them to become much weaker and change in color causing them to appear a shade yellow.


The sugar imbalances that occur during diabetes can cause changes in the nail causing it to appear a shade yellow.

Psoriasis: This is a complex disease that affects different parts of the body including the skin, joint, eyes among others. These parts become inflamed causing symptoms such as an itchy skin with eruptions, joint pain and redness of the eyes. Abnormalities of the nails are also very common including yellowness of the nails and disfigurement.


One of the side effects of chronic smoking is yellowness of the nails. This is due to the components of a cigarette particularly tar and nicotine.


Proper nutrition is important for healthy nails. Some nutritional deficiencies, such as vitamin deficiencies has been associated with yellowness of nails. This is further supported by further research which has shown impressive results with treatment of fungal infections with anti-fungals together with vitamin E supplementation.

Yellow Nail Syndrome

This is an extremely rare hereditary condition that is characterized by yellow nails and other nail abnormalities, respiratory problems such as coughing and difficulty breathing and lymphedema, where fluid accumulates in tissues. If these symptoms occur together, especially with a history of similar symptoms in a family member you may need to see a doctor. But as mentioned at the beginning, this is a very rare condition and it is more likely that yellowness of your nails is being caused by something else.

Yellow or brown nails may also occur in other conditions such as:

  • Pregnancy
  • Thyroid disease such as hypothyroidism
  • Lyme disease
  • Cancer

Home Remedies

Home remedies that may help with the above symptoms include:

  • Trimming of the toenails which usually help reduce the pain.
  • Thickened nails can be difficult to trim; these can be softened by soaking applying an over-the-counter cream containing lactic acid or urea.
  • Soaking feet in warm water containing apple cider vinegar has been shown by studies to inhibit the growth of some microorganisms that can cause nail infection.
  • Lemon juice can also help as its acidity has a bleaching effect.
  • Coconut oil has also been demonstrated to be a natural fungicide and antiseptic.
  • Using appropriately fitting footwear that does not provide the warm, moist and dark environment that favors fungal infection. Whenever possible, opt for sandals or sandals.
  • Pedicures should be avoided as they may encourage further spread of the fungal infection into the nail

How to Prevent Yellowing of Toenails

Measures that can be taken to prevent toe nails from turning yellow include:

  • Taking a break from nail polish or using a nail buffer
  • Dry feet are important: Feet should be dried well and socks kept clean and dry
  • Daily alternating footwear to allow the sweat-dampened shoes enough time to dry out
  • Regular trimming of the nails
  • Regular exercises such as running and walking helps improve blood supply as bad circulation encourages fungal infection
  • If you have fungal infection, measures you can take to avoid spreading to others include: avoiding walking barefoot in areas others may come in contact with, if possible avoiding swimming pools as well.


If home remedies do not help or you suspect a systemic underlying disease process causing the nail changes, such as diabetes, you may want to see a doctor.

For the management of fungal infections your doctor may prescribe the following set of drugs either singly or in combinations. Medications used to treat fungal infections are known as anti-fungals and include:

  • Oral anti-fungals: They include a drug called Lamisil and another one known as Sporanox. Treatment with this type of antifungals can take up to 12 weeks. These drugs may cause side effects such as skin rashes or even liver disease, and therefore should only be used under doctor’s guidance.
  • Anti-fungal nail polish or nail cream: Your doctor may prescribe a nail polish called Penlac that contains an antifungal. The antifungal is applied like any other nail polish you may have to apply this kind of polish every day for up to a year. Medicated nail creams containing antifungals may also be prescribed and they usually work best after the nail has been thinned either by a file or a n over-the-counter lotion containing urea.
  • Surgical nail removal: the removed nail may take up to a year to grow back and the nail bed may require additional treatment with an antifungal.
  • Laser therapy

Yellow Toenails Pictures

Look at some of the pictures of yellow toenails:



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