Nail Fungus vs. Nail Discoloration Distinction

Woman receiving laser treatment on her feet for the treatment of a mild fungal infection in the toenails known as onychomycosis, or to rejuvenate the skin for summer

Picture Supply: Getty / danr13

  • Nail fungus and nail discoloration can current themselves equally, however they aren’t the identical.
  • The distinction typically lies within the root trigger, which can name for medical experience.
  • One is an an infection, whereas the opposite will be resulting from an underlying well being situation.

We’ll simply come proper out and say it: a few of us have been responsible of leaving our nail polish on far too long. As a rule, when that polish is then removed, we uncover that what’s hiding beneath is not all the time a fairly sight. If you can also relate, you then’re in all probability conversant in the sheer panic that is typically accompanied by seeing a discolored toenail (or a number of).

There are a number of potential causes that may very well be inflicting discoloration, and never all of them look the identical. There is perhaps white spots on the nail, for instance, or darkish spots hiding beneath or close to the cuticle space, in addition to yellowing that would point out a potential an infection. Nonetheless, there is a distinction between nail fungus and nail discoloration, so in the event you’re noticing any main modifications by yourself palms or ft, it is in all probability time to study the distinction (and make an appointment together with your dermatologist simply to be secure).


To additional assist differentiate between the 2, we requested Jennifer Weiss, dermatology doctor assistant at Marmur Medical, to interrupt down every thing it is best to know under.

The Distinction Between Nail Fungus and Nail Discoloration

“Nail fungus is a typical an infection of the nails,” Weiss says. “All of us have fungus naturally on our nails and our bodies generally, however typically there may be an overgrowth of that fungus, and that’s when you may even see a noticeable change within the look or colour of the nails.” It needs to be famous, nevertheless, that not all discoloration of the nails is because of fungus.


Nail discoloration, then again, refers to any marks that don’t seem translucent or uniform in colour to the remainder of your nail. On this occasion, they “could look yellow, brown, black, and even inexperienced,” Weiss says. These can pop up wherever on the nail, both in spots or vertically alongside the nail.

What Causes Nail Fungus and Discoloration?

Like many fungal infections, there are a number of solution to develop a nail fungus. Chief amongst them? Extra moisture. “Fungus thrives in heat, moist environments, so nail fungus will be attributable to extreme sweating or strolling barefoot in a heat, moist surroundings like a pool,” Weiss says. “It’s also possible to catch it by having direct skin-to-skin contact with somebody who already has a fungal an infection.”


As for the causes of nail discoloration, there may very well be a bunch of causes wholly unrelated to a fungal an infection that causes the difficulty. “A brown or black streak on a nail is called melanonychia,” Weiss says. “This could all the time be identified by an authorized dermatology supplier as you wish to ensure to rule out one thing extra severe equivalent to a melanoma. Melanonychia is benign and will be attributable to genetics, trauma to the realm, treatment use, or being pregnant.” Black discoloration of the nail can be attributable to dried blood resulting from some kind of trauma — also referred to as a subungual hematoma — so in the event you’re unsure what may have brought about a black mark in your nail, it is best to err on the facet of warning and pay a go to to a medical supplier.

“Nails that seem inexperienced are most frequently attributable to a micro organism known as Pseudomonas aeruginosa,” Weiss provides. Extended publicity to water or soaps and detergents can put somebody at a better danger of creating this bacterial an infection.

Easy methods to Inform the Distinction Between Nail Fungus and Nail Discoloration

Whereas Weiss does not suggest making an attempt to self-diagnose at residence, there are some tell-tale traits of a nail fungus that may make it simpler to identify. “Nail fungus usually seems as yellow, thickened nails,” she says. For those who’re nonetheless unsure whether or not your nail suits the invoice, contact your dermatologist for additional testing. In some cases, that will imply getting the nail biopsied and examined to make certain.

What Nail Fungus May Look Like

Nail fungus can present up in several varieties, however a thickened, yellow nail is usually a key attribute of nail fungus.

What Nail Discoloration May Look Like: Subungual Hematoma

Easy methods to Deal with Nail Fungus and Discoloration

As to be anticipated with any medical situation, many therapy choices for nail fungus embody prescription-strength treatment. “These embody prescription antifungal lacquers or, for extra extreme circumstances, an antifungal tablet,” Weiss says. “The tablet includes a three-month course and usually requires blood-work testing initially and midway by the course. When utilizing the lacquer, it’s endorsed that or not it’s utilized to the affected nail or nails for a complete yr.”

There may be additionally an at-home treatment that has been confirmed to assist with treating nail funguses as properly: Vicks VapoRub. “The elements of thymol, menthol, camphor, and oil of eucalyptus in scientific research have been proven to be efficient,” Weiss says.

For nail discoloration, therapy depends upon the trigger. For instance, Weiss says it’s best to depart the benign melanonychia alone, whereas “melanoma, then again, must be addressed promptly with surgical procedure.” If it’s a regular reason for an damage that bled beneath the nail, the most effective plan of action in that case is to let the dried blood beneath a nail develop out by itself.

Nonetheless, therapy for pseudomonas, the final typical case of non-fungal-related discoloration, is a little more intensive. “[This treatment] includes taking an oral antibiotic that’s inclined to pseudomonas,” Weiss says. “It’s also possible to attempt vinegar soaks at residence, which includes one-part vinegar and four-parts water, and soak the affected nail or nails in for 10 minutes, twice every day till the an infection is resolved.”

Easy methods to Forestall Nail Fungus and Discoloration

“Forestall nail fungus or discoloration from taking place by not strolling barefoot in heat, moist environments,” she says. “It is strongly recommended to maintain your ft clear and dry, wash them every day with cleaning soap and water — taking particular care to wash in between your toes — after which drying them totally after.” Extra ideas embody protecting your nails quick and ensuring to sanitize your nail clipper earlier than use.

As all the time, you should definitely examine together with your physician ought to any regarding discoloration come up.

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