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Discolored toenails might be an indication of a serious underlying condition, such as diabetes or a liver dysfunction, but the discoloration also might be the result of a simpler issue, like ground-in dirt. Bleeding under the nail can cause blackening, but most often, a discolored nail is the result of a fungal infection.
Many common fungi are able to infect the nail and can turn it yellow, brown, reddish, green or black, depending on the variety of fungus involved. In the earliest phase, this infection might present itself as a yellowish tint or a small white spot on the nail. As the fungus grows and matures, the discoloration will usually become more pronounced.
In the advanced stages, the toenails are likely to thicken, and they might also become flaky or misshapen. From this stage, the fungal infection is likely to spread to the surrounding skin, and treatment becomes more challenging.
Fungal spores can be found in the soil, dust, and air. They thrive in a warm, moist, humid environment, so the risk of fungal infection is greater in areas such as heated pools, hot tubs, saunas, and shower rooms.
Footwear traps moisture as well and can allow fungal infections to thrive, especially if the same pair of shoes is worn daily. Regularly rotating footwear will reduce the chances of developing an infection that might cause discolored toenails. The chances might be further reduced by selecting shoes that allow air to circulate and prevent moisture from collecting.
Toenail infections are most effectively treated by a medical professional in the early stages of the infection. The healthcare provider might prescribe oral or topical prescription medication, depending on the extent of the infection. Some also recommend home remedies such as vinegar or tea tree oil. Discolored toenails might indicate other conditions, though, and consultation with a healthcare professional is recommended before attempting to begin treatment at home.
Bacterial infection also can discolor toenails, and nails with this sort of infection will typically soften and take on a green color. Advanced infections also might cause the nail to lift from the nail bed.
Trauma, such as a stubbed toe or ingrown toenail, can cause bleeding under the nail. This trapped blood, called a hematoma, usually appears black and might affect a small spot or the entire toenail. Depending on the nature of the trauma, this also can cause the toenail to become misshapen.
Discoloration also might be an indication of another underlying medical condition. Liver, lung, heart or kidney conditions might be indicated by changes in nail color. In fact, medical professionals typically examine the nails of patients for indications of potential problems.
Women should always remove their toenail polish before going to the doctor, especially for a physical. Discolored nails can alert a doctor to a problem that he might not see if the woman is wearing polish.
When I was a teenager my toenails turned yellow. My dad (a single parent to three girls) looked at my yellow toenails, freaked out, and rushed me to the doctor's office. They were getting ready to draw blood, when a woman nurse asked me if I wore toenail polish.
It turned out that the polish had discolored my toenails and it was nothing to worry about. I was fine, but my poor dad barely survived the experience.
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