March 01, 2019

What can be done for thickened, discolored toenails?

Q: A few of my toenails have turned a yellowish color and seem to have thickened. Is there anything I can do to fix this?

A: What you're likely experiencing is a fungal nail infection. Yes, treatments are available — although they may take some vigilance.

Fungal nail infections are common, especially among older adults. As nail growth slows with age, it's easier for fungus to establish in the nail bed.

A fungal infection may result in toenails or fingernails that are:

  • Thickened
  • Discolored, from whitish to yellow-brown
  • Brittle, crumbly or ragged
Fungal nail infection

A fungal nail infection may result in nail discoloration.


Although usually not serious, these infections can cause complications — particularly if you have diabetes or a weakened immune system. If you appear to have a fungal nail infection and it bothers you, see your primary doctor, a podiatrist or a dermatologist who can trim your nails and scrape away debris to limit fungal growth. Generally, antifungal medications are the main treatment. Oral antifungal medications taken for about six months are the most effective.

For milder infections or if you can't take the oral options, a topical medication may be appropriate. These medications require regular application for up to a year to prevent new fungal growth. Laser treatments also may be an option, although there's little data supporting their effectiveness. It's important to note that reinfection is likely, especially in older adults.