Symptom Checker: Symptoms & Signs Index
Medical Author: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
Nail discoloration, in which the nails appear white, yellow, or green, can result from different infections and conditions of the skin. In about 50% of cases, discolored nails are a result of infections with common fungi that can be found in the air, dust, and soil. There are many species of fungi that can affect nails. By far the most common, however, is called Trichophyton rubrum. This type of fungus has a tendency to infect the skin and is therefore known as a dermatophyte. Pseudomonas is a type of bacteria that infects the nail bed and results in a greenish color to the nails. Red or black (that may sometimes appear bruised) nails may result from a hematoma (a collection of blood) under the nail as a result of trauma (including ingrown toenails).
Chronic medical conditions also can affect the appearance of the nails. Specific color changes in the nails can be suggestive of diabetes or of liver, kidney, heart, or lung conditions. This is why doctors pay specific attention to nails during a routine physical examination.
Other, rare causes of discolored nails include the "yellow nail syndrome," an inherited condition that results in slow-growing, yellowing, discolored nails and is associated with lymphedema (swelling of tissues due to the accumulation of fluid) and lung diseases. Nails may also appear lightened to a whitish-yellow color if there has been separation of the nail from the nail bed, termed onycholysis.
The skin, mucous membranes, and nails may appear blue when there is inadequate oxygenation of blood (cyanosis), but this is not true discoloration of the nail itself.
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Longo, D.L., et al. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 18th ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Professional, 2011.
Causes of Nail Discoloration
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In This ArticleDiabetes (Type 1 and Type 2) Article
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- Other types of diabetes
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In This ArticleHeart Disease (Coronary Artery Disease) Article
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In This ArticleHypertensive Kidney Disease Article
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- Introduction to high blood pressure (hypertension) and kidney disease
- What is high blood pressure?
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- What are the signs and symptoms of chronic kidney disease? (CKD)?
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- Who is at risk for kidney failure related to high blood pressure?
- Hope Through Research
In This ArticleIngrown Toenail Article
- Ingrown toenail facts
- What are ingrown toenails?
- What are the symptoms and signs of an ingrown toenail?
- What causes ingrown toenails?
- Are some people more prone to ingrown toenails?
- Which nails are most commonly affected by ingrown toenails?
- What causes infections in ingrown toenails?
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- What are possible complications of ingrown toenails?
- How do people treat an ingrown toenail at home?
- When should someone seek medical treatment for an ingrown toenail?
- What kind of doctor treats ingrown toenails?
- What is the treatment for ingrown toenails?
- What types of nail surgery are used for ingrown toenails?
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- Ingrown toenail do's
- Ingrown toenail dont's
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In This ArticleJaundice (Adults) Article
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- Pre-hepatic causes
- Hepatic causes
- Post-hepatic causes
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In This ArticleLichen Planus Article
- Lichen planus facts
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- How is the rash of lichen planus different from that of most other common rashes?
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- What does lichen planus look like?
- How is lichen planus diagnosed?
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- What is the long-term prognosis of lichen planus?
In This ArticleLymphedema Article
- Lymphedema facts
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- What does lymphedema look like (pictures)?
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- How is lymphedema diagnosed?
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- What are complications of lymphedema?
- Can lymphedema be prevented?
- What is the prognosis for lymphedema?
- Where can one get help and support for lymphedema?
In This ArticlePsoriasis Article
- Psoriasis facts
- What is psoriasis?
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- Can psoriasis affect my joints?
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Other Causes of Nail Discoloration
- Bacterial Infection
- Chronic Lung Diseases
- Drug Hypersensitivity (for Example, Tetracycline)
- Senile Ischemia (Onychogryphosis)
- Staining From Nail Varnish or Cosmetic Products
- Yellow Nail Syndrome
Examples of Medications for Nail Discoloration
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