Discoloured nails: Do you know the underlying medical condition?


Wellness & Fitness

Discoloured nails: Do you know the underlying medical condition?


Good-looking fingers and toenails add to a woman’s confidence, especially after a fresh manicure and pedicure session. Men have equally revamped their grooming standards by occasionally getting their nails done.

There is more to nails than appearance. A change in your nail colour or a disruption in their growth is a tell-tale sign of an underlying problem. It could be due to an infection, medical condition, poor nutrition, or stress.

Typically, toenails should be more, or less clear, and partially translucent. However, they can appear yellow, green, blue, purple, or black.

Infections initially manifest at the tip and if left untreated the nail continues to grow as the infection spreads. Here are some colour changes you should be on the look-out for;

White spots and streaks

This is a common appearance after bumping a nail. It will grow out in time. Toe trauma can also cause a white streak which is no cause for concern.

However, certain medical conditions such as liver disease, heart failure, and diabetes can lead to longitudinal white spots that run up and down the nail.

Chronic kidney disease can cause the top half of the nail to turn white for a longer time. Once treated the nail grows out.


A black stain indicates a damaged blood vessel under the nail. This could occur after an injury to the finger or toenail.

Prolonged wearing of tight-fitting shoes that cram your toes has the same effect. The bruise usually starts red, then becomes purple, dark brown and finally black. The nail will grow out in about six to nine months and back to its original colour.

In rare cases, this may occur due to fungal infections, chronic ingrown nails, or a serious skin cancer known as malignant melanoma.


When nails turn yellow, a fungus is usually to blame. This type of fungal infection is caused by sharing of unsterilised grooming tools in beauty parlours.

A visit to the doctor will help get the right anti-fungal cream. If your nail is yellow and thick, gently file down the surface to enable the medicine to penetrate deeper layers.

However, if the colour persists after a series of treatments, consult your doctor. It may be an indicator of underlying health conditions such as lung disease, lymphedema, rheumatoid arthritis, or chronic bronchitis.

Some medications such as tetracycline when consumed over a long duration of time stain nails.


Popularly known as green-nail syndrome, it is caused by an infection. The culprit is usually bacteria that thrive in damp, or wet conditions.

It is common among people regularly exposed to water or working in hot environments that require footwear. The moisture builds up from sweat and the bacteria can thrive in the shoes.

The colour appears underneath the nail, scrubbing it off will not make a difference. Consult a specialist to begin treatment.


Blue nails are an indicator of low oxygen levels in the blood. During cold weather, the blue discolouration appears due to constricted blood vessels which make it difficult for enough oxygen-rich blood to get to your nails.

Upon warming up the nails will regain their normal appearance. If a blue spot appears for no clear reason, play it safe and see a doctor.

You may have a blue mole that sits beneath the nail. It is probably harmless but in very rare cases, a type of blue mole called a cellular blue nevus can become cancer.

What stains nails?

Healthy nails develop stains based on factors such as aging that affect colour, thickness, and shape due to wear and tear.

Frequent application of nail polish also affects the shade based on the choice of colours. Women should take short breaks between applications to enable their nails to rejuvenate.

Medical conditions and infections are the most common causes and if treated in time bear positive results.


Hand and feet hygiene is paramount to avoid infections. Trim your nails short and keep them clean and dry. During each visit to the nail parlour, ensure the apparatus is disinfected before use, or carry your tools.

Wear sweat-absorbent socks and wash them before wearing them again. Footwear should be regularly washed and air dried while old ones should be disinfected with antifungal powder or disinfectants.


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