Toenail discoloration: causes, risks and ways to treat discolored toenails

toenail discolorationToenail discoloration is one of the most common toenail problems patients neglect considering them to be harmless. Is it really so? Discolored toenails are not a disease, but a symptom that something is going wrong in your body. Moreover toenails can tell us much more than we can imagine. From this review you will learn how to “read” toenails and to diagnose various diseases considering the changes in the look and feel of your nail plates on the toes.


  1. Main causes of toenail discoloration
  2. Is nail discoloration dangerous?
  3. How to treat toenail discoloration

Main causes of toenail discoloration

Discoloration is not harmful itself, but being a symptom of a more serious disease it can really help you prevent severe consequences.

Changes in toenail colors may be caused by:

  • Fungal infections – commonly fungal infections are not noticed on early stages of the diseases. However some patients get black, brown, yellow or simply dark spots on nail plates being fungal seats.
  • Injuries and traumas can leave dark, black, brown and purple spots on your toenails or even change a color of an entire toenail.
  • Bacterial infections also result in toenails changing color. Commonly nails go dark or black followed with additional symptoms of pain, odor, redness, irritation and inflammation. If a toe gets a bacterial infection if gets warmer. You feel as if it is heated from inside. People say “it is burning”.
  • Various diseases and body dysfunctions can also lead to discolored toenails. For example, diabetes, liver problems, cancer (melanoma especially), avitaminosis, heart diseases and liver failures. System diseases as lupus and anemia can also have discolored nails as a symptom.

Is nail discoloration dangerous?

Discolored nails will not do harm to your body and health on their own but you should immediately see a doctor and indicate your problem as a brown spot can be a fungus, bacterial invasion, a result of trauma as well as a small melanoma. You will not be able to identify on your own at home what tis dark spot really is. But your health care provider will examine not only your nail, but will conduct certain blood tests or even will make some nail scraping to find out the nature of discoloration.

If a discolored nail is a result of trauma then a doctor will give you recommendations how to treat it at home or in severe cases will drain the blood blister under the nail. Some cases require nail removal which should be done only in clinic.

However if your discolored nail is a melanoma then you will rescue your life with your own hands starting the treatment as early as possible.

Tip for everybody: do not pass any changes of color of your nails.

Recommendation for women: always inspect your nails after removal of your nail polish. Mind that low quality nail polish can also be toxic for your nails and can lead to changes in color (for example, yellow). If you notice changes in color of your nails, do not apply nail polish to hide the problem as you should watch how it changes with time.

How to treat toenail discoloration

Toenail discoloration should be treated only after you see a doctor. You need to be sure that discolored toenails are not signs or symptoms of malignant processes in your body. Besides, you should diagnose a certain reason of why your nails change color and only then start treatment.

If a cause of discolored toenails will not be determined, then the spots will appear again and again.

As a nail is a dead tissue which can not be restored, then the only available treatment of nails is polishing of a nail plate. However it is the most risky way to get rid of spots and dark nails.

Without knowing a reason you can not know as well how deep the discolored layer of nail is. It can be a blister with blood on the nail bed under the nail, or this can be a spot on a surface of nail plate.

Follow these steps of treating discolored toenails:

  • Visit a doctor and determine a cause of nail discoloration. If necessary get all the tests done.
  • Before doing some home toenail treatments, soak your feet in antiseptic solution. Be sure, your hands and feet absolutely clean.
  • Remove the upper layer of a damaged nail with a gentle file. Apply some alcohol on the surface and then apply a medication if necessary. Your doctor may prescribe you creams and gels if discoloration is caused with fungi or bacteria. In some cases oral medications are more reasonable (for example, if nearby tissues are inflamed as well and there is a suspected case of further contamination).
  • Always dry your feet with clean towel (we recommend using paper towels).

Repeat the procedures every day before going to bed. If you do not have time to take proper care about your feet, then you may seek for professional care in clinic.