What Do Yellow Toenails Mean?


Could Yellow Toenails Be An Indication Of Something More?

Noticing a yellow tinge to your toenails may cause you to worry, and you would be right to, as there are many medical problems that yellowing toenails could indicate. Toenails can actually be considered the storytellers of health, and at the first sign of any discoloration, medical attention should be sought from a doctor or podiatrist.

Fungal Infection

For most people who notice a yellowing to their toenails, the problem will usually have been caused by a yellow toenail fungus. These kinds of fungal infections may occasionally be a symptom of a more serious problem such as a weakened immune system but generally they are caused by personal habits.

• Wearing shoes that are made with non-breathable materials means that the sweat from the feet will mix with bacteria and therefore create a breeding ground for fungal infections.
• Walking barefoot in public places such as locker rooms or swimming pools will also increase the chance of contracting a fungal infection.

The actual process of how a fungal nail infection develops refers to the rapid increase in the production of yeast or ringworm fungus. This production becomes worst when feet are exposed to moisture and warmth. Therefore, keeping your feet enclosed in hot shoes or walking barefoot in wet places makes the probability of developing a fungal infection very high. The toenail becoming yellow will be one of the first signs of an infection, further signs will be more extreme discoloration as well as changes in the actual shape of the toenail, a loss of shine and also a brittle feel and a susceptibility to chipping and splitting, some nails may even become loose and fall off due to a separation of the nail from the nail bed.

Yellow Nail Syndrome

Yellow nail syndrome is also known in the medical world as primary lymphedema. It is an extremely rare syndrome that is characterized by the thickening of the nail and also a yellow/yellow-green discolouration. This syndrome is serious because it is commonly accompanied by systemic disease such as lymphedema and compromised respiration, as well as the presence of pleural effusions.

• Lymphedema – Also known as lymphatic obstruction, is a condition that causes localised fluid retention and tissue swelling because of the lymphatic system being compromised.
• Pleural Effusion – This is referred to as excess fluid that accumulates in the pleural cavity. The pleural cavity is the fluid-filled space that surround the lungs. The problem with the cavity holding excess fluid is that it can impair breathing by limiting the expansion of the lungs. There are different kinds of pleural effusion depending on the type of fluid. Hydrothorax refers to the presence of serous fluid, hemothorax refers to an excess amount of blood, urinothorax refers to urine, pyothorax refers to pus and there is also pneumothorax which is not a liquid but refers to there being an excessive amount of air in the pleural space.

It has been suggested that this syndrome has a genetic link, however, there is also extensive evidence to suggest the yellow nail syndrome can be caused by titanium, e.g. from eating foods that contain high levels of titanium dioxide.


A yellow appearance of the toenails may be a sign of diabetes. This isn’t very common but it is definitely worth checking it out. Usually, if diabetes is the cause of the nail discolouration, there will also be other apparent symptoms such as feeling exceptionally thirsty, constantly needing to drink water and feeling extremely tired to the point of regular exhaustion. The reason that diabetes can cause a yellow tinge to the toenails is because the condition affects the glucose production and distribution in the body. It can cause glucose to attach to the collagen proteins in the nails and turn them from the healthy looking pink to the unhealthy looking yellow.

Other Causes

There are also some less serious causes of nail discolouration, for example, it may be that the individual just happens to have a brittle or weak toenails which could be caused by a lack of calcium, this is easily solved and should not be anything to worry about. As well as many women may see a difference in the colour of their nails because of the use of nail polish. It is very common for toenail polish to leave behind a slight stain on the toenail. If polish is used regularly, then these minor stains could easily build up and result in more severe discoloration.

Yellow Toenails Treatment

The treatment needed to restore toenails to their natural healthy pink hue will depend on the cause of the problem in the first place.

• Staining due to nail polish – If you have a case of yellow toenail due to the regular use of nail polish and therefore, the build-up on staining, then it may be that the only way to truly restore you nails to their natural colour is to wait for them to grow out. It may be possible to achieve a cleaner look by investing in stronger nail polish remover, however, these do contain harsh chemicals and could cause more harm than good.
• Fungal Infections – For the treatment of fungal infections, it is possible to purchase over the counter remedies, however, it is best to consult with a doctor before doing this. For mild cases of fungal nail infections, topical treatments can be used, these will usually contain ingredients such as cicloprox and will need to be applied to the affected area daily. These treatments are relatively safe, however, even in the mildest cases, it will often take at least, 6 months before results are seen. If the infection is more severe, then a doctor will likely provide an oral treatment, these treatments are much stronger than their topical counterparts, however, they also come with more severe side effects such as liver damage.
• Brittle nails – If the problem of discoloration is due to brittle nails, then nail gels can often be effective in treating this problem. Nail gels are antimicrobial solutions that penetrates the nail and effectively cleans up the environment. Not only will this treatment get rid of the discolouration, it will also be able to create a healthier environment for new nails to grow, which will prevent the problem from returning and enable the new nail growth to be stronger and less brittle. Nail gels are popular product that are regularly recommended by podiatrists, however, they should still be used sparingly and with supervision.
• Natural Remedies – As with most pharmaceuticals, medical treatments for yellow nails often come with side effects, and so people may be discouraged from using them. Luckily, there are plenty of natural remedies that are reported to solve the problem of nail discolouration. Tea Tree Oil is a natural fungicide and antiseptic which will fight the presence of fungus and also prevent it from coming back, combing this ingredient with lavender oil will also prevent any skin irritation, applying with a cotton swap twice a day should help to fight to the problem. Olive oil, oregano oil and apple cider vinegar are also all natural remedies to fight nail discoloration. All of these ingredients have antibacterial properties which will help to create a healthy environment for strong nail growth.

Prevention of Yellowing Toenails

Prevention is always better than cure. It may not always be possible to take steps to prevent nail discolouration before it happens but it is worth giving it a try. Also, if you have recovered from this problem, then this tips can help you prevent the issue from returning.

• Never wear shoes that are made from very tough and unbreathable material. Wearing shoes like this will make the development of a fungal nail infection much more likely.
•Ensure that your socks are clean and dry, and that your feet are clean and dry before you put socks on. E.g. don’t neglect drying your feet after you have been swimming.
• When you dry your feet after washing or swimming, ensure to do this thoroughly and dry in-between each of your toes.
• Keep your toenails clean and short, however, never cut the nail shorter than the nail bed, this will cause separation and will likely result in a thick layer growing on top of your nail as well as discolouration.
• Never walk barefooted in public areas, especially areas with wet floors, e.g. wear flip flops in the locker room.
• Try to avoid sharing towels or bathmats with other people, especially if they have a fungal infection.
• At the first sign of any problems with your toenails, make a visit to your doctor or podiatrist, if the problem can be detected early, it will dramatically reduce your recovery time.
• Maintain foot and toenail hygiene, however, resist from using harsh chemical products.
• If using nail polish, never leave it on for longer than 7 days, and remove using a gentle solution. Once you have taken the polish off, soak your feet and gently clean around the nail and the surrounding skin.


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