Toenail fungus is an ugly condition, one that many of us will get at some point in our life. But because you might not be familiar with it, sometimes it can go unnoticed. You have to be on the lookout for the particular symptoms of toenail fungus. That way, you can prevent it from getting worse than is necessary.
But, what are the typical symptoms of toenail fungus? Of course, you have a nasty odor, which is a noticeably cheesy smell. Think of regular foot odor, but worse, and you’re not far off. The toenail also becomes brittle and opaque. Aside from these two, though, easily the most noticeable symptom is a color change to the toenail. Fungus often makes your toenails turn dark yellow, but there are other colorations.
This post is all about identifying the colors of toenail fungus at various stages of the condition. We will first explain how to identify toenail fungus, and then help you understand what it means. Finally, we will cover the complete symptoms list of toenail fungus, how to tell it apart from other conditions, and how to get rid of toenail fungus permanently.
So, if you’re suffering from an unpleasant nail condition, it’s time to self-diagnose it. Read on to find out everything you need to know!
Table of Contents:
- 1 What Color is Toenail Fungus?
- 2 How to Get Rid of Yellow Toenails
What Color is Toenail Fungus?
Toenail fungus isn’t simply one color. The color deepens and changes over time as the condition progresses. That’s why so many people struggle to identify toenail fungus before it becomes more of a problem.
There are three main stages when it comes to toenail fungus color. They are as follows:
- Beginning stage. In this stage, the toenail is a normal color. The only symptoms which may make it obvious that you have toenail fungus are small white spots or a slight thickening of the nail.
- Intermediate stage. In this stage, the nail ranges from a pale yellow to a dull, but obvious yellow. This stage is often accompanied by the other symptoms of toenail fungus, i.e., brittleness, thickness, etc.
- Advanced stage. In this stage, the nail ranges from deep yellow to brown or black. At this point, the nail may be crumbling away, be many times thicker than when healthy, and produce a lot of odor.
It’s best to stop toenail fungus before it reaches that final stage. In the final stage, a fungal infection might be so deep that it’s difficult or almost impossible to treat. During the beginning stage, all it takes is a couple of month’s treatment to eradicate a fungal infection.
That being said, yellow toenails are not unique to toenail fungus. They are associated with other conditions including other infections, medical conditions, and environmental changes. So, why does toenail fungus make nails yellow? And what do yellow nails mean?
What Do Yellow Nails Mean?
Yellow nails and other nail colors too are a general sign of ill health. As we will come to in a moment, yellow nails are a marker for several different conditions. Most commonly, they are the result of a fungal infection. But, they can also be a sign of a more severe medical issue.
The same goes for nails of other colors too. Take a look at our list below:
- Yellow Nails: Yellow is the typical color that you’ll see. However, yellow nails can also be a sign of diabetes or psoriasis.
- Blue Nails: Blue nails indicate a lack of oxygen in the blood or poor circulation.
- Pale Nails: Pale nails can be a sign of illness, such as heart failure or liver failure.
- Striped Nails: Dark lines from the top to the bottom of the nail can be a sign of melanoma (cancer).
- Black Nails: Black or purple nails are a sign of recent trauma. Did you drop something heavy on your nail lately?
- White Nails: White nails can be a sign of liver problems, like hepatitis. They can also occur when the nail is scratched.
- Pink Nails: Pink nails are healthy.
As you can see, nails that have changed color are a sure sign that something is wrong with your body. This can range from something relatively serious like melanoma to something as simple as an infection. That’s why we call the nails the windows to our health. It’s also why you should speak with a doctor in the event that your nails unexpectedly change color.
Which Else Can Turn Your Toenails Yellow?
So, as you can see, toenail discoloration can be linked to many different conditions. Unfortunately, this is just as true for yellow toenails as any other color. This means that it might be difficult to identify exactly what’s wrong.
However, with our brief guide below, you should be able to cross them off your list.
Excess Nail Polish
Excess nail polish can cause discoloration of the nails after removal. This is where, once the polish is removed, the nail remains becomes yellow- no matter what color was applied. This is because the iron in some nail polish is absorbed by the nail. This turns it a yellow to light brown color.
Smoking commonly turns the nails yellow. This is not because of an underlying condition. It is because the tobacco smoke comes into contact with the nails as you hold a cigarette. However, if your smoking leads to lung disease, then this can further complicate matters.
Your yellow nails may also be a sign of kidney disease. As a result of kidney disease, you may have more bilirubin in your blood than usual. Bilirubin is the part of bile that turns it yellow-brown, and if your kidneys are not working properly, they will not remove enough from the blood. With too much bilirubin in the blood, your nails will turn yellow.
Thyroid Disease and Diabetes
Yellow nails are a common sign of either thyroid disease or diabetes. This is not because of any additional infection. It’s actually because these conditions cause glucose to attach to the collagen in and underneath the nail.
This turns them from their usual pink color to yellow. Other associated symptoms include fatigue, passing more water than usual, drinking more water than usual, and trouble losing weight.
Yellow nails may also be a sign of lung disease, although this is very, very rare. It is not associated with all kinds of lung disease.
Yellow nails are one of many symptoms which include a persistent cough, fluid in and around the lungs, swelling of the legs and sinusitis. When all of these conditions are present together, you will most likely be diagnosed with a condition called ‘Yellow Nail Syndrome.’
Nail psoriasis is a specific form of the condition, which affects the nails rather than the skin. Nail psoriasis typically affects the fingernails as opposed to the toenails, although any nail may be affected.
This condition can cause similar symptoms to toenail fungus, such as the nail coming away from the bed. However, one of the tell-tale signs of psoriasis is pitting of the nails, where the nail starts to look a little like a thimble, dotted with pits.
Despite the prevalence of other conditions that cause yellow nails, fungal infection is still very likely. It is by far the most common reason why people get yellow nails. Make sure to double check whether or not you’re experiencing any other symptoms related to these conditions. If you’re not sure whether or not you do, the best route is always to contact a medical professional. That way you can be certain.
What Are the Symptoms of Toenail Fungus?
So, many conditions can turn your nail yellow. But aside from discoloration, there are many symptoms to look for when identifying toenail fungus. These are just as common and just as crucial as discoloration. In fact, these symptoms often appear first.
These first two symptoms are characteristic of the early stages of fungal infection. However, they may be present at any stage:
- One of the first signs of toenail fungus is the nail changing shape. These changes are typically difficult to spot at first. Your nail could stay the same shape but have ridges running from top to bottom in the surface of the nail.
- Another very early sign of toenail fungus is the odor. You might notice this before you see any physical symptoms at all. When you take your socks off before bed, you might notice a stronger odor than usual. The odor is similar to normal ‘foot odor,’ but stronger. This symptom often appears alone, before any other. However, it will be present throughout the lifetime of the condition and will continue to get worse.
These next four symptoms are characteristic of the intermediate stage of fungal infection. If you notice any of these symptoms, seek treatment right away to prevent them from getting worse:
- Increased Nail Thickness. As the condition progresses, the nail becomes thicker. This leads on to the nails changing even further and is a sign that the condition is getting worse.
- Brittle Nails. Next, your nails may begin to change in texture. One way in which this might happen is that the nail becomes brittle. This is where the nails break and split easily. This is caused by the fungus infecting deeper and deeper layers of your nail. Eventually, they damage the regular structure of the nail which usually keeps it strong.
- Crumbling Nails. Alternatively, your nail may become crumbly. This is a sign that the fungus has eaten entirely through the nail. There is no structure left to the nail, and it crumbles away in tiny pieces. This symptom is typical of later stages of the condition.
- Debris Build-up. If you have crumbly or brittle nails, you will begin to notice debris building up around the edges of your nail, or underneath your nail. This is to be expected as the nail begins to fall apart.
These final two symptoms are characteristic of the final stage of infection:
- Once the condition becomes severe, you may notice even worse deformation. This is where the nails twist and bend rather than grow straight. Since the nail has already become thick, it may look like a long, twisted claw. It can be difficult to cut your nail once it reaches this stage.
- At this point, the nail is painful to walk with since it has become deformed. However, remember that this is a symptom commonly associated with advanced infection. You will not experience pain from the moment your nail is infected; only once it is deformed.
If you’re fortunate enough to have caught your toenail fungus before the intermediate stage of the condition: well done. You will be able to treat it using one of the suggestions below. If the condition is intermediate or advanced, you will have a more difficult time doing so. However, treatment is not impossible.
How to Get Rid of Yellow Toenails
If you have a cough or a cold, you can wait it out, and eventually, you’ll be fine. You can’t say the same about fungal toenail infections.
If you have an infection, it’ll continue to get worse. The fungus will find more and more to feed on the deeper it gets into your nail bed. It will also spread from one toe to another, and if you’re not careful, to your fingernails and skin.
Waiting for the fungus to disappear is not an option.
Your first options are over-the-counter toenail fungus creams. These creams are ‘topical,’ which means you apply them directly to the affected area. They contain an anti-fungal agent, which kills the fungus that it comes into contact with.
You have a choice of pharmaceutical or natural creams. Many natural creams are homeopathic; homeopathic creams seem to work for some people, but not for others as it can be difficult for the formula to get through the nail.
Tea Tree Oil
Tea tree oil for toenail fungus is a natural alternative to OTC creams. It is harvested from the tea tree plant. It is naturally anti-fungal and is proven to work, unlike many homeopathic cures.
Before you apply it to your nail, you should dilute it in a ‘carrier oil,’ since it is highly potent. The only problem with tea tree oil is that some people don’t like the smell.
You can either visit a clinic or buy a small handheld device to use at home.
Laser treatment involves running a small laser over the infected area. The laser burns the tiny fungal spores, which prevents the infection from spreading. With regular treatment, the infection will start to shrink.
The laser doesn’t burn your toe, but it does cause a slight prickling sensation.
What To Do About Yellow Toenails
So, if you have yellow toenails, you should now know a lot more about what caused them and how to get rid of them. No matter what the underlying condition, the one thing you should know is this: doing nothing is not an option. That applies whether you have a fungal infection, or your yellow toenails are a sign of something more concerning.
If you do have an infection, you should, therefore, pick a course of treatment as soon as possible. Each one has its pros and cons, and which one you choose depends on your taste. If you prefer natural methods, tea tree oil is an excellent choice. A homeopathic cure might interest you, and there are plenty available online. If you would prefer a pharmaceutical cure, these are also available.
Laser treatment isn’t for everyone since it causes a small amount of pain. Some people are perfectly fine with a slight stinging sensation, although it seems to be more painful for others. If you are susceptible to heat or pain, laser treatment might not be a good option. However, the primary benefit of laser treatment is that you can reuse your applicator again and again, unlike creams which run out.