What Causes Discolored Toenails?

Are your toenails crumbly or flaky? Crusted with yellow, white, or brown patches? 

Discolored and deformed toenails are not a good look. A fungal infection, called onychomycosis,   is probably responsible. Left untreated, the infection can spread to your feet, too.

Sean Rosenblum, DPM at Foot and Ankle Care of Passaic, wants you to have beautiful, healthy toenails and feet. He has tips for preventing toenail fungus, which causes about half of all nail diseases. 

Toenail fungus explained

Onychomycosis is most often caused by the dermatophytes fungi, which need the fibrous protein keratin to grow and thrive. 

Toenails are made of 80% hard keratin and 20% soft keratin. When the dermatophytes meet your feet, they feast on keratin, breaking it down into smaller particles. Keratin debris is the crumbly residue on your infected toenails.

Onychomycosis is not only highly contagious, but it’s also difficult to treat.

How to avoid dermatophytes

Dermatophytes love warm and moist environments.

You can prevent fungal infections by protecting your feet with flip-flops or beach sandals when you go to the following places:

Make sure you wash and dry your feet daily, particularly when you get out of the pool, ocean, or shower, and take care to dry between your toes.

Sprinkle foot powders on the tops of your toes, in toe webs, and on your soles to absorb excess moisture. Always wear clean socks, changing them at least daily or more often if your feet sweat a lot.

Remember these additional tips to reduce your risk of onychomycosis:

Treatment options

If you suspect you have onychomycosis, book an appointment with Dr. Rosenblum as soon as possible. First, he’ll examine your toes and, perhaps, send a scraping of your toenail to a lab. If you have onychomycosis, Dr. Rosenblum will treat your toenail with topical antifungals and/or recommend an oral antifungal, such as terbinafine or itraconazole. 

If keratin debris covers your nails, Dr. Rosenblum will scrape it away with specialized tools. If your infection is severe, toenail surgery to remove the infected nail and treat the nail bed may be indicated. Be patient as you’re being treated since clearing onychomycosis can take up to 12 months.

We want you to have healthy, fungus-free feet. To book an appointment at Foot and Ankle Care of Passaic, call 973-218-5720, or use our online booking tool.

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