What Causes Fingernail Discoloration

Fingernail discoloration is usually the first visible sign of a fungal fingernail infection. Indeed, it is usually the first symptom of any kind, since at such an early stage, a fungal infection will not be causing any discomfort. The discoloration is generally yellow or brown, and will gradually get worse if the infection progresses. Fungus, however, is not the only thing that can cause a yellowish or brownish color change in the nails. If you notice fingernail discoloration, don't jump to quick conclusions.

Most often, discolored toenails, and fingernail discoloration is caused by fungal nail infection (onychomycosis). Some estimates say the one in ten people in North America suffer from onychomycosis, so it is far from rare. If only some nails are affected, and the color change is something new, the presumption that fungus is the cause is more likely to be correct. Even if the affected nails look entirely typical of onychomycosis, however, it's a good idea to get a proper diagnosis.

If the only sign of trouble is discolored toenails, and the diagnosis is certain, it's a good idea to start treatment right away – the less advanced the infection is, the easier it will be to treat. It will also be easier to prevent the infection spreading to other nails: fungus usually invades the toe nails first, then fingernail discoloration marks its spread to the hands. Early treatment can also prevent complications.

None of the available remedies for onychomycosis work for everybody, but all work best if treatment instructions are carefully followed – and they all take time, even for simple discolored toenails. Don't just opt for an over the counter (OTC) lotion or ointment: especially while your nail is still relatively intact, these treatments are unlikely to penetrate the nail sufficiently to kill the fungus. Oral prescription medication is available, which contacts the fungus from inside the body, and a few topical natural remedies have been formulated to give good nail penetration. Many of the home remedies involve soaking the nails in solution, which softens the nails and allows better penetration of a traditional treatment. Fingernail discoloration may clear up faster than discolored toenails.

Although the human immune system does occasionally fight off early onychomycosis on its own, a wait-and-see approach is likely to just lead to a worsening fungal nail infection. Caught early, the infection can be cleared up relatively easily and quickly. There are many treatment options to choose from: do some searching and choose one that's right for you.


  1. EA Reply
    December 21, 2007 at 8:02 pm

    Great article. Would be helpful if the article listed the names of the medications a doctor might prescribe.

  2. CA Reply
    October 17, 2011 at 1:27 pm

    Also, pictures would be helpful.

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