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What Are the Causes of Yellow Toenails?

Updated November 21, 2016

Yellow, discoloured, thick, flaky toenails are common. This condition is usually caused by a fungal infection, but other factors can affect nail health.

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Footphysicians.com reports that a fungal infection is the most common reason for yellow toenails. When a fungus occurs it will make the toenail lift up, become thicker than normal and the nail generally becomes discoloured.

Other Culprits

If you swim or take lots of showers, keep in mind that fungi thrives in moist environments. The fungi can get into your skin in the area that separates your toenail from the nail bed, and can also enter through a cut on your body or through a split in your skin. A condition called lymphedema (chronic leg swelling) can turn your nails yellow. So can diabetes.

Nail Polish

Quickcare.org says that using nail polish can cause a fungal infection because the nails aren't able to breathe when covered with polish. Moisture tends to get trapped under the nail. This allows the fungus to flourish and will likely turn the nail yellow. If you continuously wear nail polish, this can stain your nail and cause it to become discoloured.

Yeasts and Molds

According to Mayoclinic.com, dermatophytes are a bunch of fungi that can cause nail infection and the subsequent yellowing of the nail. In addition, yeasts and moulds can also cause infection in toenails.


One reason toenails are likely to become infected and the target of fungal infections is that feet are stuffed into dark, sweaty shoes most of the time. This environment is perfect for the formation of fungus, according to Mayoclinic.com. If an individual has bad circulation, this can cause a fungal infection in your toenails. Quickcare.org says that ill-fitting shoes, or those that are too tight, can result in a fungal infection. If you cut your nails too short and cut yourself in the process, an infection can enter through the injury site.

Other Outcomes

A fungal infection in the toenails can do more than discolour them. It can also cause the splitting of the nail, and pitting may develop. If dirt and debris accumulates under your nails, this can exacerbate the fungal problem and cause a foul odour. Infected toenails may become flaky and thick, according to Footsmart.com.

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About the Author

Cindi Pearce is a graduate of Ohio University, where she received her bachelor’s degree in journalism. She completed both the undergraduate and graduate courses offered by the Institute of Children’s Literature. Pearce has been writing professionally for over 30 years.

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