What Causes White Toenails and How to Treat Them


Nail color variations are a common occurrence, and it’s not unusual for individuals to notice white discoloration on their toenails. The condition of your toenails can provide valuable insights into your overall health, so understanding why your big toenail is white is crucial. In this article, we’ll delve into the causes of white toenails, how to diagnose them, and the available treatment options.

Understanding the Structure of Toenails

Toenails are complex structures composed of several parts that contribute to their color. The nail plate, the visible part of the toenail, covers the nail bed, which produces new nail tissue. The nail matrix, where the nail plate and nail bed meet, is responsible for the creation of keratin, the main component of nails. The color of toenails is determined by melanin, the pigment that gives the skin its color, as well as the blood vessels that supply nutrients to the nail bed.

The color of toenails can vary depending on factors like genetics, age, and underlying medical conditions. While a healthy toenail should have a pinkish hue, the presence of white discoloration may indicate an underlying problem.

Common Causes of White Toenails

Fungal Infections

Fungal infections are a frequent cause of white toenails. These infections occur when fungi invade the nail bed, resulting in thickened, discolored, and brittle toenails. The affected nails may appear white, yellow, or brown. People who spend a lot of time in damp environments or have weakened immune systems are at a higher risk of developing fungal infections.

Treatment for fungal infections typically involves the use of topical or oral antifungal medications, which can be prescribed by a healthcare professional. In severe cases, surgical removal of the toenail may be necessary.

Trauma or Injury

Injuries to the toenail can lead to white discoloration, bruising, and bleeding underneath the nail plate. The white appearance occurs due to the separation between the nail plate and nail bed, allowing air to accumulate underneath. Trauma to the toenail can happen when you stub your toe, drop something heavy on it, or wear tight-fitting shoes.

Treatment for toenail injuries usually involves maintaining good hygiene and protecting the toe from further damage. In severe cases, surgical removal of the toenail may be required.

Other Causes of White Toenails

Aside from fungal infections and trauma, white toenails can also be caused by nutrient deficiencies and various underlying medical conditions. Here are some other causes to consider:

Nutrient Deficiencies

Nutrient deficiencies, such as low levels of iron, zinc, or biotin, can affect the appearance of toenails. Inadequate intake of essential nutrients may cause the toenails to become brittle, thin, and discolored, resulting in a white appearance. People who follow restrictive diets or have medical conditions that affect nutrient absorption are at a higher risk of developing nutrient deficiencies.

Treatment for nutrient deficiencies usually involves making dietary changes or taking supplements to ensure sufficient nutrient intake.

Other Medical Conditions

Several underlying medical conditions, including liver disease, kidney disease, anemia, and thyroid disorders, can cause white toenails. These conditions can impair the body’s ability to produce healthy nails, leading to discoloration and other changes in appearance.

Treatment for underlying medical conditions typically involves medical management under the guidance of a healthcare professional.

Diagnosing and Treating White Toenails

Properly diagnosing the underlying cause of white toenails is crucial for effective treatment. Here’s how to go about it:

Diagnosing the Cause

A healthcare professional can diagnose the underlying cause of white toenails through a physical exam, medical history review, and laboratory tests. They may take a toenail sample to examine under a microscope or send it to a laboratory for further analysis.

Available Treatment Options

The treatment for white toenails depends on the underlying cause. Here are the available treatment options for each cause:

  • Fungal Infections: Topical or oral antifungal medications, and in severe cases, surgical removal of the toenail.
  • Trauma or Injury: Maintaining good hygiene and protecting the toe from further damage, and in severe cases, surgical removal of the toenail.
  • Nutrient Deficiencies: Dietary changes or supplements to ensure adequate nutrient intake.
  • Other Medical Conditions: Medical management under the guidance of a healthcare professional.

In conclusion, white toenails can be caused by various factors, and understanding the underlying cause is crucial for proper treatment. If you’re concerned about the appearance of your toenails, it’s best to seek medical advice to determine the cause and receive appropriate treatment.

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