Nail Discoloration

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Nail discoloration, in which the nails appear white, yellow, or greenish, 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 result in a greenish color to the nails. Red or black 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, 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.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 2/23/2012

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REFERENCE:

Fauci, Anthony S., et al. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine. 17th ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Professional, 2008.

Causes of Nail Discoloration
    • Atopic Dermatitis Eczema is a general term for many types dermatitis (skin inflammation). Atopic dermatitis is the most common of the many types of...learn more »
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      Atopic Dermatitis Article
      • Atopic dermatitis facts
      • What is atopic dermatitis?
      • What is the difference between atopic dermatitis and eczema?
      • How common is atopic dermatitis?
      • What causes atopic dermatitis?
      • Is atopic dermatitis contagious?
      • What are atopic dermatitis symptoms and signs?
      • Can atopic dermatitis affect the face?
      • What are the stages of atopic dermatitis?
      • How do physicians diagnose atopic dermatitis?
      • What factors can aggravate atopic dermatitis?
      • What are skin irritants in patients with atopic dermatitis?
      • What are allergens?
      • What are aeroallergens?
      • What is the treatment for atopic dermatitis?
      • What is the prognosis of atopic dermatitis?
    • Diabetes (Type 1 and Type 2) Diabetes mellitus is a chronic condition characterized by high levels of sugar (glucose) in the blood. The two types of diabetes...learn more »
      In This Article
      Diabetes (Type 1 and Type 2) Article
      • Diabetes facts
      • What is diabetes?
      • What is the impact of diabetes?
      • What causes diabetes?
      • What are the different types of diabetes?
      • Type 1 diabetes
      • Type 2 diabetes
      • Other types of diabetes
      • What are diabetes symptoms?
      • How is diabetes diagnosed?
      • Why is blood sugar checked at home?
      • What are the acute complications of diabetes?
      • What are the chronic complications of diabetes?
      • What can be done to slow diabetes complications?
    • Fungal Nails Fungal nails (onychomycosis) may be caused by many species of fungi but the most common is Trichophyton rubrum. Distal subungal...learn more »
      In This Article
      Fungal Nails Article
      • What other conditions can be mistaken for fungal nails?
      • What causes fungal nails, and what are some of the risk factors?
      • Is nail fungus contagious?
      • What are the symptoms and signs of fungal nails?
      • How are fungal nails diagnosed?
      • How is nail fungus treated?
      • Are oral medications for nail fungus toxic?
      • What about the cost of oral medications?
      • How do you prevent fungal nails?
      • What is the prognosis of fungal nails?
      • Conclusion
    • Heart Disease (Coronary Artery Disease) Heart disease (coronary artery disease) occurs when plaque builds up in the coronary arteries, the vessels that supply blood to...learn more »
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      Heart Disease (Coronary Artery Disease) Article
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      • What are the risk factors for heart disease?
      • What causes heart disease?
      • What are the symptoms of heart disease?
      • How is heart disease diagnosed?
      • What is the treatment for heart disease?
      • What is the prognosis for heart disease?
      • Can heart disease be prevented?
    • Hypertensive Kidney Disease High blood pressure can damage the kidneys and is one of the leading causes of kidney failure (end-stage renal kidney disease)....learn more »
      In This Article
      Hypertensive Kidney Disease Article
      • High blood pressure and kidney disease facts*
      • Introduction to high blood pressure (hypertension) and kidney disease
      • What is high blood pressure?
      • How does high blood pressure hurt the kidneys?
      • What are the signs and symptoms of high blood pressure?
      • What are the signs and symptoms of chronic kidney disease? (CKD)?
      • How can kidney damage from high blood pressure be prevented?
      • How can high blood pressure be controlled?
      • Can medicines help control blood pressure?
      • Who is at risk for kidney failure related to high blood pressure?
      • Hope Through Research
    • Ingrown Toenail Ingrown toenails are caused by the growth of the toenail into the surrounding nail fold. Symptoms include toe pain, swelling,...learn more »
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      Ingrown 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?
      • How do physicians diagnose an ingrown toenail?
      • 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?
      • How can people prevent ingrown toenails from recurring?
      • Ingrown toenail do's
      • Ingrown toenail dont's
      • What is the prognosis for an ingrown toenail?
    • Jaundice (Adults) Jaundice in adults may be caused by a variety of medical diseases or conditions. Some cases of jaundice can be managed at home...learn more »
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      Jaundice (Adults) Article
      • Jaundice definition
      • Jaundice in adults
      • What causes jaundice in adults?
      • Pre-hepatic causes
      • Hepatic causes
      • Post-hepatic causes
      • What are the symptoms of jaundice in adults?
      • What are the risk factors for jaundice in adults?
      • How is jaundice in adults diagnosed?
      • What is the treatment for jaundice in adults?
      • What are the complications of jaundice in adults?
      • Can jaundice in adults be prevented?
      • What is the prognosis of jaundice in adults?
    • Lichen Planus Lichen planus is a common skin disease that features small, itchy pink or purple spots on the arms or legs. the abnormal areas on...learn more »
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      Lichen Planus Article
      • Lichen planus facts
      • What is lichen planus?
      • What causes lichen planus?
      • How is the rash of lichen planus different from that of most other common rashes?
      • What are the symptoms and signs of lichen planus?
      • What does lichen planus look like?
      • How is lichen planus diagnosed?
      • What is the treatment for lichen planus?
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    • Psoriasis Psoriasis is a long-term skin condition that may cause large plaques of red, raised skin, flakes of dry skin, and skin scales....learn more »
    • Smokeless Tobacco Smokeless tobacco can have negative health effects such as cancers, poor oral health (gum disease and tooth decay), infertility,...learn more »
      In This Article
      Smokeless Tobacco Article
      • Smokeless tobacco facts
      • What is smokeless tobacco?
      • What are the health risks of smokeless tobacco?
      • Cancer risk
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      • What treatments are available to help people quit using smokeless tobacco?
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      • Getting ready to quit smoking
      • On the day you quit smoking
      • Staying quit
      • What methods can help a person quit smoking?
      • Behavioral modification and self-help literature to quit smoking
      • Nicotine replacement therapy to quit smoking
      • What prescription products are available for smoking cessation?
      • How are nicotine-containing products used safely?
      • What is in the future for smoking?
Other Causes of Nail Discoloration
  • Bacterial Infection
  • Candidiasis
  • Chronic Lung Diseases
  • Drug Hypersensitivity (for Example, Tetracycline)
  • Liver Disease
  • Malnutrition
  • Senile Ischemia (Onychogryphosis)
  • Onycholysis
  • Staining From Nail Varnish or Cosmetic Products
  • Trauma
  • Yellow Nail Syndrome
Examples of Medications for Nail Discoloration
  • ciclopirox, Penlac, Loprox
  • fluconazole, Diflucan
  • griseofulvin - oral suspension, Grifulvin V
  • griseofulvin - oral tablet, Fulvicin, Grifulvin V, Gris-Pe
  • itraconazole, Sporanox
  • terbinafine, Lamisil, Lamisil AT
  • triacetin-topical cream, solution
  • triacetin-topical spray




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