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What Are the Different Causes of Orange Toenails?

By Alex Newth
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Orange toenails can be unattractive and may lead one to believe he has a serious medical condition, but the condition usually is not a very serious problem. If the toes recently have been hit or stubbed, then there is a possibility that blood has accumulated under and around the toenails, which can lead to orange toenails. Shoes that do not fit correctly also can press into toenails, causing bleeding to occur. Fungal infections often result in toenails turning orange, but the infection itself rarely is life threatening. Toenails that are cut incorrectly can lead to both infection and trauma.

One of the most common causes of orange toenails is trauma resulting from having one's toes stepped on, hitting a toe or toes against something or otherwise causing trauma to the digits. If the trauma exerts enough force, then this can cause bleeding. Unlike a cut anywhere else in the skin, where the blood can easily spill out, blood has a difficult time escaping from under the toenail, so it sits there and changes color as it ages. This can lead to orange, red or black toenails, though the color usually will subside with time.

A common reason for anything on the body to turn orange is infection. When it comes to orange toenails, the infection is almost always fungal, though it also can be bacterial. This can be the result of trauma lifting the toenails to allow dirt underneath, cracked toenails that let dirt become trapped, or from a weak immune system that cannot otherwise fight off the infection. Medication typically will be needed to heal the infection and allow the toenails to return to their normal color.

When shoes do not fit correctly, they may be uncomfortable, or they may cause trauma to the toenails. This usually happens if the shoes are severely tight, but even slightly tight shoes can make the toenails more susceptible to turning orange. Unlike other causes of orange toenails, this usually is easy to correct before the symptom actually occurs.

Many people cut their toenails as part of routine hygiene, but improperly cutting them can lead to both trauma and infection. By cutting toenails too short, someone can accidentally cut himself and to open the nail area to problems. Cutting below the white nail and into the pink area increases the chances of this happening. If the toenails already are low but need to be shaped, then it may be better simply to file down the toenails instead of using trimmers.

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Discussion Comments

By myharley — On Jul 22, 2012

I have a bad habit of cutting my toenails too close and have had problems because of this. Thankfully I have never had an ingrown toenail, but I have gotten an infection from doing this.

I don't like my toenails catching on things so think if I cut them short enough this won't happen. I have been trying to leave them a little bit longer and just file them down instead of getting too close with the clippers.

By LisaLou — On Jul 22, 2012

My husband gets orange toenails quite often and usually it is on his big toe. He works construction and always has boots on, but his feet still take quite a bit of abuse.

Since there isn't really anything he can do except give it time, his toenails are orange most of the time. I am glad to know it isn't really anything serious.

It makes me wonder if he was off his feet for any length of time if his toenails would return to a normal color. It doesn't seem to bother him at all, but it would really bother me if my toenails were orange most of the time.

By andee — On Jul 21, 2012

@bagley79 - I will also get orange toenails if I continually keep polish on my toenails. One thing I do is make sure I put on at least one coat of a clear base which gives my toenails some protection from the colored polish. Putting on a base coat helps, but over time my toenails will still look orange.

We have fairly short summers where I live, so I give my toenails a break all winter long and don't put any polish on them at all. They can look pretty bad when summer is over, but I know they are not going to have any polish on them for several months.

The cause of my orange toenails has nothing to do with any kind of infection. It is just a bad habit that I have because I really have a hard time going with plain looking toenails in the summer time.

By bagley79 — On Jul 21, 2012

I think I have some kind of foot phobia because I think feet and toenails are ugly and don't even like to get pedicures because someone else is touching my feet.

I know a few other other who are like me, but most people love to have their feet pampered. About the only thing I do is paint toenails in the summer and this has given me orange toenails.

In order to cover these up, I continue putting more polish on which only makes the problem worse. I know this is not healthy for my toenails, but now think they are too ugly to go without any polish on them.

It becomes a vicious cycle, but looking at orange toenails is something that really bothers me and when they have polish on them, I don't notice it.

By ceilingcat — On Jul 20, 2012

Cutting your toenails short is definitely a bad idea overall, as the article says. It can cause infection, but you can also get ingrown toenails. And imagine if both happened at once? No thank you.

Also, it seems like it's important to get shoes that fit right as well. I know ill-fitting shoes can cause other foot problems, but I had no idea it could cause trauma and make your toenails change color! I actually have a few pairs of shoes I'll probably get rid of after reading this.

By JessicaLynn — On Jul 20, 2012

@Pharoah - It's always disconcerting when any body part starts changing color for no reason! I actually had something similar happen, but me toenail turned partly black from blood that was under the toenail. I also rushed to the doctor, thinking there was something horribly wrong with me!

Anyway, while it may feel kind of dumb to run to the doctor because your toenail changed color, it's usually a good idea. If you have a fungal infection or a bacterial infection, you need to get it treated before it gets worse! And the doctor can usually give you oral medicine that works a lot better than over the counter creams.

By Pharoah — On Jul 19, 2012

I've had an orange toenail before, and I have to admit, it really scared me! I thought I had some kind of scary fungal infection, so I high tailed it to the doctor immediately. Once I got there, the doctor figured out that I didn't have a fungal infection, and it was from trauma. As soon as he said it, I remembered hitting my toe really hard a week previously.

Once I knew it wasn't a fungal infection, I just painted my toenails and kept them painted until my toenail returned to its normal color. Because with trauma under a toenail, all you can really do it wait for it to heal!

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