Your body uses numerous methods to indicate when a health issue is present. Some examples of this include painful sensations, abnormal bumps, and fatigue. Another potential sign that something is wrong is tissue discoloration. When a toenail is an abnormal color, appearing darker than it should, the condition is known as a black toenail. There are various reasons nails can become discolored, but the important thing to keep in mind is that Foot & Ankle Associates of Florida is your resource for diagnosing and treating this condition.
Causes and Symptoms of Black Toenails
Depending on the medical issue, causes can be rather straightforward at times. A fractured toe bone happened because of that heavy box falling on your foot. Your foot itches because of the fungal infection called athlete’s foot. With black nails, however, there are several potential causes, including:
- Injury or physical trauma to a toenail. This is the most likely cause of your black toenail. The discoloration being the result of bruising or blood pooled under a toenail (subungual hematoma) in response to physical trauma. Specific causes of trauma include: stubbing a toe, dropping something heavy on your foot, even an auto accident.
- Repeated trauma. Whereas a singular event can certainly lead to a black toenail, so too can repeated trauma, like when a runner’s toenail repeatedly hits the front or top of a shoe while running.
- Ill-fitting footwear. For some patients, a pair of shoes that is too tight can go hand-in-hand with the repeated trauma that causes a black toenail.
- Fungal nail infection. The most noticeable symptom of toenail fungus is simply the discoloration of the affected nail tissue.
- Malignant melanoma. Fortunately, skin cancer isn’t usually the cause of a black toenail, but melanoma is a serious condition in the rare cases it is present. For this reason, it is wise to have discolored toenails examined by one of our podiatrists.
When it comes to black toenail symptoms, the most obvious is the discoloration of the toenail or nailbed of the affected nail. Depending on the cause of the condition, the discoloration doesn’t have to be black and can actually be reddish, purplish, or even brownish. In addition to the unusual coloration, you might experience pain, a slightly foul odor, even a discharge that emerges from underneath the toenail. When swelling, redness, strong odor, and discharge are present, it is usually a sign of an existing infection.
One more important symptom to know is that the toenail may separate from its nailbed. Typically, this is most commonly seen when the black toenail has developed in response to physical trauma and the pooling blood has created enough force to cause the separation.
Black Toenails Treatment
If your toenail has started to detach from the bed, your first step should be to file the sharp edges and smooth them down. Doing so will reduce the risk of the nail getting caught on something and tearing further. In some cases, the tear may be rather large. When this happens, you can either trim off the detached portion or let it be (and let it fall off on its own). Either way, soak the toe in cold water for about twenty minutes, dry it off (carefully), and then apply an antibiotic ointment. Once you are done with this, cover the toenail with a clean bandage.
In time, the toenail will grow back in a normal manner, but you need to take measures to reduce your risk of infection until this happens. The best way to do this is to keep the nailbed clean, dry, and covered with antibiotic ointment and fresh bandages. Should the bandage become dirty or wet, be sure to replace it as soon as possible with a new one. Stay alert for normal infection signs, like pain, pus, redness, swelling, and warmth. Contact Foot & Ankle Associates of Florida as soon as you observe any of these signs.
There are measures you can take to reduce your risk of black toenails—like wearing properly-fitting shoes, trimming your nails correctly, and wearing protective footwear—but remember to come see us for an accurate diagnosis if a black toenail develops. At that point, we will create an effective treatment plan for you, so give us a call at 407-339-7759 or 352-589-9550 (if calling from Lake County). If you’d prefer, you can also take advantage of our online form to request your appointment for any of our five Florida offices—Tavares, Kissimmee, Altamonte Springs, Lake Mary, and Orlando.