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Are Yellow Nails Unhealthy?

yellow toenail fungusYellow nails most often occur as the result of a common type of fungal infection known as onychomycosis. In mild cases, the problem is usually seen as more of a cosmetic issue. When left untreated over an extended period of time, it can lead to more serious issues including pain or worsening infection. No matter how mild or severe the infection may be, yellowing of the fingernail or toenails is a sign that the nail is unhealthy.

What Causes Yellow Nails?

Yellowing of the fingernails and toenails is a fairly common complaint among adults, but it is very rare in individuals under the age of 18. It is most common among the elderly, affecting up to 90% of the geriatric population. It occurs as the result of a fungal infection in the nail or the skin surrounding the nail. Certain risk factors make some people more likely to develop infections than others. These risk factors include diabetes, going barefoot in community showers or public locker rooms, wearing shoes that restrict air flow and advancing age.

What Other Symptoms are Associated with Nail Fungus?

There are several symptoms that indicate that a nail is unhealthy. While yellowing is one of the most common complaints, many patients will also experience thickening, splitting or disfigurement of the nail. When fingernail infections become severe, they can leave to trouble on the job or even social and psychological issues as the result of embarrassment due to the condition. When left untreated, infected nails can become quite painful due to the pressure and irritation that is caused when the nail becomes thicker than usual.

How Can I Treat Yellow Nails?

There are several treatment options for onychomycosis. Topical antifungal medication are the most common, and they are available both as prescription and over-the-counter treatments. In either case, they tend to work relatively slowly because it takes a considerable amount of time for them to penetrate through the nail and reach the source of the infection. Oral medications tend to kill fungi much faster, but they are only available from the doctor. For severe infections, the nail may need to be removed surgically. Surgery alone, however, will not remove the infection, and the patient still needs to undergo additional treatment to ensure that the infection is gone. Laser therapy is one of the newest methods of treatment available, and it is proving to be quite effective in killing fungi.


The best way to prevent yellowing of the fingernails or toenails is to avoid environments where fungus thrives. Never go barefoot in a locker room or public shower. Use an antifungal spray or powder in all shoes, especially athletic shoes. Wear moisture wicking socks to pull sweat away from the feet, and always wear shoes that allow for adequate air flow. In general, keep the feet and hands as clean and dry as possible at all times, and always wash after coming into contact with anyone with an active infection.

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