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What Causes Toenails to Become Thick and Yellow?

11 answers | Last updated: Mar 24, 2015
Caring.com User - Jane Andersen, DPM
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Jane Andersen, DPM, is a board-certified podiatrist in private practice in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. She provides surgical and nonsurgical foot and ankle...
93% helpful

There are many possible causes of yellowing, thickened toenails. The two most common are fungus and trauma.

Fungusis much more prevalent among older adults, as well as among people See also:
A Surprising Gift Older Adults Often Need: Good Shoes (and How to Pick the Right Pair)
with diabetes and other diseases that compromise immunity.

It's important to get a fungus treated because it can spread to all the toenails and even the fingernails. As infected nails thicken, they become harder to trim and eventually can impair the person's gait, putting him at increased risk for falling. The thickness of the nail can also cause an ulceration (sore) on the nail bed. Or the nail can become deformed from the thickness and then become ingrown on the edges.

Treatments vary from over-the-counter antifungals to prescription oral medications. Topicals are usually only minimally effective but are sometimes used for older adults because stronger oral prescriptions are processed through the liver and require blood work in advance -- and many older adults are already taking a lot of medications. As a result, some cases can't be treated effectively with medication, so we tend to focus on trimming the nails instead.

Trauma can result from a single event (such as dropping something on the nail) or from the nail touching the end of shoes that are too small (repetitive microtrauma). Properly fitted shoes may relieve the latter problem.


More Answers
67% helpful
Gabby12 answered...

You can also use items of out your kitchen to treat yellow, hard nails. For your toenails you can apply (with a q-tip), distilled vinegar, lemon juice or (as my grandfather did) use Knox (used for making jellies etc. mix with water). Fingernails, you can soak in any of the above.


73% helpful
tiredbutsmiling answered...

toenails respond to vicks .. but that bleaches, not kills the fungus. use tea tree oil (found in health food stores) about 3x a week after the shower for best benefit and keep cleaning out the fungus from under and around the nails and the fungus will be out of there in a few months. have to keep using the tea tree oil regularly after that or the fungus will return.

tea tree oil is a natural fungucide for any fungus, skin or nail.


30% helpful
anjord answered...

Hi Gabby 12 I think I will try your remedy. Question? With using the Knox, what is the percentage of water used in the solution? Also, are you soaking the toenail or just using the solution by applying with the Q-tip? With me, the topical over-the-counters have not worked and the medications from the doctor (Lamisil) have been used on two occasions with the fungus returning after each use. The toenail is ready ugly and almost too thick to try to cut. I also get a tingling sensation under the toenail occasionally. I was thinking about seeing the doctor again but have little faith in their being able to find something that works. anjord


14% helpful
An anonymous caregiver answered...

I have read many times in a weekly People's Pharmacy column that soaking the offending toenails or finger nails in Listerine a couple of times a day for about two weeks very often cures it. However, I am more of a nutrition/wellness person and I think it comes from the fungus living in many of the foods we eat.


55% helpful

You can spray the nails for SOft Scrub, white vinegar also works. This advice comes from my best friend who is a podiatrist. Vicks, as mentioned previously, also works. Use a Qtip for remedies that don't have an applicator. Soaking is also effective, but not as easy to apply while at work or play (can't really see you whipping out a tub and white vinegar at work!!) These topicals should be reapplied 4 times daily.


80% helpful
Jeannetta answered...

I have had thick toenails on 7 of my 10 toes since I was in my teens. I made a New Years Resolution 1/1/10 to eat only healthy food & avoid sugary & fatty foods. I do have desserts when I eat away from home with other people. I'm 80 years old now & I noticed 2 months ago that some of my toenails were clearing up. Right now I only have a small amount on the tip of my right big toe. I can't think of anything that could have cured it except the healthier diet. I'm also taking a high potency vitamin, calcium, Vitamins D,C,& B complex. I hope this works for others because it's been a wonderful blessing for me.


67% helpful
mansfield answered...

I have the fungus (onycomychosis) and am in my early sixties. I walk quite a bit each week and have tried the newest remedy on the market which I procured from my podiatrist, I first used a topic solution from my dermatologist called ciclopirox which helped only minimally and only then, after a second course. More recently, I have been using The Treatment Formula 3 which I received from my podiatrist and that cleared up well, with minimal residual thickness at the tips of nails. I have come to believe that my problem may be caused by wearing a size shoe that is about one-half size too small for many years (have narrow foot and compensated for that by wearing a half-size down, rather than always purchasing a narrow width, which is very hard to come by in sneakers, walking shoes or sandals). I am going to wear the correct size from now on, have lost that yellowing color of the nails which is great by using this latest solution called Tolnaftate. Always had pain previously, now no more pain. I would recommend this solution and may use it again for a bit until desired result is achieved. This is a "money back" guarantee from the manufacturer; therefore no loss. I am not a salesperson. Hope this helps; I am greatly encouraged. Mansfield


80% helpful
honeydog01 answered...

I went to the Podiatrist this summer for help with my toe problem. He recommended Formula 3 Antifungal. Within one month of using it 2 times per day, I have seen a remarkable improvement! It was under forty dollars and well worth the money to be rid of the fungus. Get it-it works!!!


An anonymous caregiver answered...

in a bucket or pan your foot will fit in, pour 1/2" layer of corn meal, then add warm water, enough to cover your foot/feet, soak 30 min, do this for few days


25% helpful
An anonymous caregiver answered...

This seems to be a forum, so I will say what I think. I urge people not to use pharmaceuticals to cure toenail fungus/ thickening, or any problem for that matter. What is worse? Thick, unsightly toenails or a damaged and diseased liver from which you will die? Use teatree oil, or white vinegar, as recommended in some of the posts above.