Yellow Toenail, Causes, Symptoms & How to Cure

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Believe it or not, the color and general appearance of your nails, toenails, and fingernails speak a lot about your general health. Yellow toenail is common in old people. 

When thick and yellow, they are likely to be a sign of a fungal infection. In such cases, the nails will show other symptoms such as thickening, brittle, crumbly or have ragged edges.

The shape can be distorted and the surface may appear dull. In severe cases, the nails may separate from the nail be causing pain and a foul odor.

What do yellow toenails mean?

The color and general appearance of your nails can say a lot about your general health.

According to mayo clinic, healthy toenails and fingernails are free of dents, ridges, abnormal shape, and discoloration.

It therefore true to say yellow toenails can mean you have an underlying infection.

The American Academy of Dermatologist notes that your nails can turn yellow as a result of a different condition.

They warn that, if you have a sudden change in nail color and shape, you need to report this to your health care provider as soon as possible.

Discolored toenails can mean you have a fungal infection or a rare yellow nail syndrome characterized by yellowing and thickening of the nails. It can also be a sign of diabetes.

Your healthcare provider will be able to diagnose the cause and prescribe the right treatment option.

Why are my toenails yellow?

Yellow toenail is a common condition in both males and females. A study published by the U.S National Library of Medicine found out that about 3 –12 % of the U.S population suffers from a fungal infection, one of the most common causes of yellow toenails.

When your nails are discolored, they are likely to become thicker, brittle, and deformed. Yellow nails are medically referred to as “onychomycosis”.

The big toe is commonly affected in cases of fungal infection. The fungus develops on the sides, edge, and front and beneath the nail.

Yellow toenails can be a sign of different conditions. When caused by nail fungus, the nails are often painful. The fungus can be hard to treat, they thrive in a dark, moist and warm environment.

When this is the case, you need to treat it right away before it gets worse.

You may also have yellow nails as a result of diabetes, weak or compromised immune system, nails injuries or an underlying skin condition such as psoriasis. All these reasons can contribute to the development of nail fungus.

For old people, yellow nails are common and are often attributed to reduced blood flow and slower growth of the nails.

If you are not sure what might be the cause of discoloration, we recommend you visit your dermatologist. Remember you’re your nails can say a lot about your health.

Thick yellow toenail

Thick yellow nails is a common symptom of nail fungus. Also known as onychomycosis, toenail fungus is a condition that disfigures and at times destroys the nail. This condition can be caused by different types of fungi.

Thick yellow nails are common in people with:

  • Chronic illness such as diabetes, HIV
  • Athletes, miner and military personnel
  • Poor foot hygiene
  • Layers of nail polish
  • Advanced age

In most cases, when your toenails develop a fungal infection, the typically turn yellow or brown. They also become thick and overgrown, and will in most cases have foul-smelling debris accumulate under the nail.

When left untreated, the nail may crumble gradually and fall off. In some cases, the nail may become so thick that the affected toe feel uncomfortable and very painful inside shoes.

A rare type of fungal infection known as white superficial onychomycosis turns the nail white rather than yellow or brown. In this form, the nail surface becomes soft, dry and powdery.

See Also:

Thick yellow toenail with ridges

Thick nails are common for in old people. This will in most cases be attributed to reduced blood circulation and slower growth of the nails.

Thick nails can be accompanied by two form of ridges, a horizontal ridge that results from direct trauma to the nail and vertical ridges which are considered a normal part of aging, in rare cases, this can be a sign of nutritional deficiency.

When horizontal ridges occur in different nails, it can be a sign of a serious condition known as Beau’s lines. It could also be a sign of diabetes, psoriasis, or severe zinc deficiency.

Apart from the ridges, nail fungus can be shown by the following symptoms:

  • Soft or powdery nail surface
  • Brittle, thick and damaged nail
  • Dirt buildup under the nail
  • Dull nails
  • Nails will detach from the nail bed
  • Yellow or brown nails
  • Foul-smelling debris
  • The nail may crumble and fall off

As said nail fungus can be hard to treat. You need to get rid of the underlying cause to keep the infection from recurring. Treat the infection as soon as possible.

What causes yellow toenail?


Thick yellow nails can be a sign of different conditions.  Common such conditions will include the following:

1. Diabetes

Diabetes is a medical condition in which your body’s ability to respond to hormone insulin is impaired. This result in abnormal metabolism of carbohydrates and elevated levels of blood glucose. Yellow of the nails is one of the more noticeable sign of diabetes.

The yellowing of the nails in people with diabetes occurs when glucose attaches to the collagen protein in the nail.

When the underlying cause is diabetes, you are likely to notice the following symptoms:

  • Increased thirst
  • Frequent urination
  • Numbness and loss of sensation in feet and toes

If you are not under medication, we recommend you see your doctor as soon as possible. Additional diagnosis may be required to rule out or confirm diabetes.

2. from nail polish

Yellow toenails and fingernails can also result from excessive use of nail polish. The polish can build up over time to cause the stain.

Most of these products contain formaldehyde, a chemical that can react with the keratin in nails forming a yellow hue.

Always applying the polish makes it hard for oxygen to penetrate to the nail bed, this can make it hard to fight infections such as warts and nail fungus.

See Also: white marks on nail after removing polish

3. Nail fungus

Fungal infection of the toenail causes your toenails to become thick and yellow. Molds, yeast and microscopic organism called dermatophytes are known to cause fungal infection. They can invade through tiny cuts and cracks.

On like on your fingers, your toes do not get much blood flow, this makes the infection thrive before your immune system can detect a threat.

Fungi do not need sunlight to survive, this makes the darkness of your warm, moist shoe the optimal site for them to thrive.

Anyone can get yellow toenails from a fungal infection, they are however common in:

  • Old people with slow-growing nails
  • People with family history of nail fungus
  • Anyone prone to athlete’s foot
  • Diabetics
  • Those working in humid environments

4. Psoriasis

Psoriasis is a chronic autoimmune disease characterized by patches of abnormal skin.  In rare cases, this condition can also affect your toenail and fingernails. It can thus cause pitting and discoloring of the nails.

When the yellow toenails are caused by psoriasis, it will often be coupled with a reddish hue.

5. Aging

Yellow toenails and fingernails are very common in older people. The thickening, yellowing, and breaking of nails can be attributed to slower blood circulation and cell turnover.

6. Yellow nail syndrome

Yellow nail syndrome also known as primary lymphedema is a rare genetic disorder.

This condition can be characterized by slow-growing, thick, yellow and hue toenails and fingernails. It can also cause your nails to lose cuticle and get detached from the nail bed.

7. Jaundice

This is a liver condition that can cause yellowing of the nails, skin, eyes, and nose membrane and around the mouth. When this is the underlying cause of the thick yellow nails, you will expect to notice other symptoms such as:

  • Dark-colored urine
  • Pale stool
  • Foul smelling urine

See your doctor once you notice any of the symptoms above.

Yellow toenail treatment

Treating the thick yellow toenails will often vary depending on what the underlying cause is. Common treatment option will include:

a) Oral antifungal for severe cases of toenail fungus. This option can also be used for people with diabetes and when the nail causes pain and a lot of discomforts.

b) Topical antifungal cream can also be used for mild and moderate cases of fungal infection. In most cases, this option will be prescribed along with oral medication.

c) Zinc supplements can be effective when the cause of the yellow nails is yellow nail syndrome.

d) Vitamin E supplements and topical creams are said to reduce yellow coloring and promote overall nail health.

A combination of this supplement and other medication are said to be perfect in fighting fungal infection.

How to get rid of yellow toenail

At home, you could try the following remedies to get rid of yellow toenails.

Hydrogen peroxide

At home, to get rid of a yellow toenail, one of the most effective remedies you need to try is 3% hydrogen peroxide. All you have to do is:

  • Dilute some amount of this remedy with water
  • Soak your feet in the dilute solution for some minutes
  • Use a brush to gently scrub your nails
  • You need to repeat this at least twice a day

Tea tree oil

When suffering from athlete’s feet and other fungal related infections, tea tree oil is the remedy for you. It is a natural fungicide rich in antimicrobial and disinfecting properties.

This remedy can also relieve itching and soothe irritations.

  • Use an eyedropper or a cotton ball to directly apply pure tea tree oil to the stained nails
  • If you have a sensitive skin, you can wash it off after 15 minutes
  • Do this thrice a day

Use toothpaste

In minor cases of yellow nails, applying toothpaste containing hydrogen peroxide can be all you need to get rid of the discoloration. If toothpaste can whiten your teeth, then surely it should do the job.

  • Clean your toenails with antibacterial soap
  • Dry them then apply a thick layer of toothpaste containing hydrogen peroxide
  • Leave the paste for ten minutes then gently scrub with a brush
  • Now wash it with a cotton ball dipped in tea tree oil

Try baking soda paste

Baking soda is said to be a great bleaching and exfoliating agent. You could reap some of its benefits to get rid of yellow toenails.

  • Add 1 part 3% hydrogen peroxide with 2 parts baking powder to make a fine paste
  • Apply the fine paste on your stained toenails and leave it on for some minutes
  • Now gently wash it off with lukewarm water, gently scrubbing with a brush

How to prevent  thick yellow toenails

Just like with other health conditions, there are some things you can do to prevent yellow toenails. Fungal infection of the feet is the common cause of this discoloration, to prevent it:

  • Those with sweaty feet need to ensure you keep your feet dry and clean.
  • Avoid leaving your shower floor wet or dirty
  • When visiting public washrooms, swimming pools, and other surfaces, make sure you are wearing shoes
  • Changes you soak regularly, keep them clean and avoid sharing
  • When working in humid environment, make sure you are wearing protective gear such as gumboots.


  1. National health services, Nail abnormalities: http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/nail-abnormalities/Pages/Introduction.aspx
  2. Harvard health publication, toenail fungus: https://www.drugs.com/health-guide/toenail-fungus-onychomycosis.html
  3. Why are my toenails so thick: https://www.yellowtoenailscured.com/why-are-my-toenails-so-thick/

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