If you’ve ever looked down at your toes, you may have seen white spots on the toenail. This is a common find, and the discolored spots can come from a few different sources. Some are benign, some might indicate minor lifestyle changes are in order, and others may suggest an underlying infection or injury. As with most symptoms, paying attention to how it presents and what other signs your body is showing can help you and your doctor decide on the correct course of action.
What Causes White Spots on Toenails?
There are a few different possibilities that can cause white spots on toes, and symptoms can vary for each. For the record, some of these causes may also apply to white spots on your fingernails as well.
The most common cause of white toenails is a fungal infection. There are different types of fungi that can grow under your nail, but broadly speaking, the infection ends up happening because the nail is not given enough oxygen (like if you cover or polish them a lot or wear tight, closed shoes) or if they are kept in a moisture-rich (i.e.: sweaty) state. Both circumstances can be ideal conditions for fungal growth. If left untreated, nail fungus can attack the integrity of the nail itself and cause it to crumble, distort how the nail grows, and possibly spread elsewhere on your body or to others who live with you. Fungus is a likely diagnosis when:
- The spots appear on multiple nails
- The spots are green, yellow or a sickly white
- The nail begins to thicken or becomes brittle
If something injures the matrix of the nail—the part where growth happens—then it can result in white discoloration spots. The appearance of the spots is not immediate and can take days or weeks to appear. Any sort of injury or compression can potentially result in this kind of effect, from wearing tight shoes to stubbing your toe to dropping something heavy on your foot. Discoloration may also be the result of an allergic reaction to the nail polish you are using. Injury is most likely the cause when:
- The white spot is small and confined to a single/small number of nails
- You can recall an injury to the foot in the past few days
- You have recently used a new type of nail polish
- You find your shoes are too tight
Deficiencies in calcium or zinc can result in white spots appearing on your toenails as an extension of the various health complications of those conditions. To avoid getting too technical, these minerals affect nail integrity either by affecting the nutrition of the nail matrix or circulation thereof. This is why iron deficiency from anemia can also be connected to white spots on the nails. Vitamin deficiency is likely involved when:
- The spots are in the form of stripes instead of blotches
- You have a diet that does not feature enough of a given nutrient
- You experience frequent minor infections or are losing hair (sign of zinc deficiency)
- You are anemic
Kidney, Liver, or Heart Disease
Although far from the most apparent or worrisome symptom, it is known that white spots on the toenails can be caused by advancing diseases in other organs. The connection is not entirely understood but is thought to be connected to circulation or blood vessel problems that often result from these ailments.
How to Treat White Spots on Toenails
As a symptom, the treatment for white spots on toenails involves taking care of the underlying cause. For vitamins, this is a matter of changing your diet to include the necessary foods. For cases of injury, most cases require no action unless the nail begins to grow unusually, at which point your doctor should be informed. For fungal infections, antifungal medication or antifungal nail polish should be enough to clear up the problem. Liver, heart, or kidney disease will require advanced medical responses that are too varied or complicated to explain here since those ailments, in turn, can have myriad causes.
Home Remedies for White Spots on Toenails
If you prefer not to use medication, toe fungus can be cleared up with some at-home approaches. Applying VapoRub, Listerine, or vinegar to a cotton ball and then wiping over the affected area or soaking the foot in a vinegar bath a few times each day may help, though speed is not this method’s forte.