Although wearing nail polish on your toenails for too long can cause them to turn yellow, the main causes of discolored toenails are nail fungus infections, also called onychomycosis. These infections are caused by fungi which thrive in dark, warm, damp conditions. Symptoms include yellowed, thickened, and crumbling toenails; in some cases, the infected nail may separate from the nail bed, and have a foul odor. Nail fungus infections, which are unsightly and painful, occur when fungus microorganisms enter through a tiny cut or split in the nail. Most toenail fungus infections begin as a small yellow or white spot on the nail; for early diagnosis and prompt treatment, you should see your doctor at the first sign. This is especially important if you have diabetes or a suppressed immune system, which makes developing complications of nail fungus--such as bacterial skin infections like cellulitis--more likely. There are simple steps you can take to help treat nail fungus infections and prevent them from reoccurring.
Things You'll Need
- Antibacterial soap
- Anti-fungal foot powder
- Cotton socks
- Good-quality metal toenail clippers
- Shower booties
Follow your doctor's dosing instructions exactly for prescribed oral antifungal medications. Don't suddenly stop taking them unless your doctor tells you to, even if your toenail starts to look better. Most of these medications need to be taken for six to 12 weeks. Report side effects; some antifungal medicines can cause skin rashes and liver damage.
Wash your feet daily with antibacterial soap and water, using a nail brush to scrub away dirt, debris, and nail tissue. Dry well--especially between toes--and dust with an anti-fungal foot powder.
Wear 100 percent cotton socks, especially when exercising, to avoid having moisture collect around your toes. Change into fresh socks at the first sign of dampness.
Examine all of your shoes to make sure they fit properly. There should be a buffer zone at least 1/2 inch wide between the tip of your longest toe and the front of the shoe. The trauma and pressure on the toenails caused by poorly-fitting shoes can make them more vulnerable to infection.
Soak your feet for 15 minutes in a solution of one part vinegar to two parts warm water every day. According to Mayo Clinic staff, this is safe to do and might be helpful. Vinegar, which has antibacterial and antiseptic qualities, may help prevent re-infection and inhibit growth of bacteria under your toenails.
Cut your toenails straight across and no longer than the end of your toe using a high-quality, sturdy metal set of toenail clippers. Be careful not to cut them too short.
Disinfect your nail clippers after you clip each toenail to avoid spreading the infection from one toenail to another. Don't share your toenail clippers with anyone, and don't use someone else's clippers.
Avoid wearing toenail polish while you have a fungus infection. Although your instinct may be to cover up your yellow toenails, having nail polish on your toes makes it hard to judge if the infection is improving or not, and the polish tends to trap moisture and worsen the infection.
Wear shower booties in the locker rooms and bathrooms of gyms, spas and public pools.
Tips & Warnings
- If you go to a salon for a pedicure, make sure the employees properly sterilize all instruments.
- Some people report improvement from using Vicks VapoRub on their toenails; consult with your doctor for advice on when and how much to apply.
- Toenails are easier to cut immediately after you get out of the shower or bath.
- Sometimes vinegar can irritate skin; if you notice redness on your feet after soaking, reduce the treatment to twice a week. If irritation persists, discontinue soaking.
- Photo Credit Andrea Chu/Photodisc/Getty Images
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