Truth about discolored toenails

thumbnailYour good friend calls you up to invite you for a pedicure. You think of how relaxing it would be to soak your feet in some sudsy water and get pampered. You deserve some time away, but suddenly you remember. You look down at your feet and see that black toenail.

Nails can discolor for a number of reasons, but it can still make you feel a little embarrassed. Scott & White podiatrist Christopher G. Browning, DPM, FACFAS explains some of the causes of nail discoloration, so you can rest assured.

Why Do Toenails Discolor?

It may seem a little strange to have nail discoloration, but it is actually fairly common especially for those who are sick or elderly. Your nail may discolor to yellow, black, brown or even red and happen for a number of reasons.

Dr. Browning says nails can discolor for a variety of reasons including but not limited to:

  • Trauma

If you have a dark or black toenail, it can be due to trauma. Did you drop something on your foot recently? Are you an avid runner and need some new athletic shoes? Your nail can turn black because there is blood trapped under the nail.

“Trauma can also damage the matrix or your nail root,” says Dr. Browning. “This can cause chronic thickness or an abnormal shape.”

It can be hard to know if this is due to a fungal nail infection or the trauma, so you may need a provider to take a look.

  • Fungus

This is the most common cause of brownish yellow, brittle, thickened nails.

  • Psoriasis

Dr. Browning says psoriasis causes pitting and yellow discoloration of the nail.

  • Chronic painting of the nails

If you’re constantly painting your toenails, the nail polish can leave residue or stains. To avoid yellowish nails, consider using a clear base coat before the polish to add a protective layer and prevent discoloration.

  • Malignant Melanoma

If you see black streaks or discoloration in rare incidences Dr. Browning says this can actually be malignant melanoma (a type of cancer) in some incidences.

Will My Toenail Fall Off?

If you’re worried about the color of your nail, you may also be wondering if it will fall off.

“Toenails can fall off for a variety of reasons but the number one cause is trauma (injury to the toenail),” says Dr. Browning. “This can be caused from tight shoes or bumping the toenails through repetitive trauma or even exercise.”

Usually if the condition is from trauma the nail may grow back healthy and normal. However, your toenail may grow back thickened and misshaped.

Toenails can also fall off if they are fungal. When fungal nails fall off, they usually come back with the same fungus as the infection lies in the matrix or root of the nail.

Have a Talk about Your Toenails

In order to know if there is a fungus or other serious condition affecting your nail, consider talking to your podiatrist or provider.

The role of the podiatrist is to diagnose the condition by taking a thorough history and taking a look at your feet. Samples of your nail and/or skin may need to be collected and sent to the laboratory for more information. Remember not to mask the discoloration with nail polish or other means, because it may lead to further problems if you don’t address it.

“There are numerous treatment options available ranging from topical lacquers, oral antifungals, laser nail treatment and nail removal,” explains Dr. Browning. “To help put your mind at ease, visit your podiatric physician and discuss treatment options.”

About the author

Jill Taylor
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I contribute content and skills as a freelance writer for Baylor Scott & White Health. I enjoy improving our connection with our readers, patients and communities by assisting with a wide range of writing projects.

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Truth about discolored toenails