Black Toenails: Causes and Treatments

Causes and Treatments for Black ToenailsHas your foot recently experienced a trauma? Maybe you stubbed your toe on the coffee table, or dropped a heavy box on it? If so, your toenails might turn black, purple, or a brownish color. Discolored toenails are usually accompanied by pain and pressure, but while this can be alarming, it is an easily treatable condition. Seeking the medical attention of a podiatrist like Dr. Harvey Danciger will put you at ease, and is the first step in the healing process of black toenails.

Signs and Symptoms

This condition is characterized by several different symptoms. Common signs include black, purple, or brown toenails; pain; a bad odor; and a discharge from underneath your nail. If left untreated, the nail can become loose and may eventually fall off on its own.

Discoloration Culprits

There are two main causes for black toenails: trauma and malignant melanoma.  If your toe experienced a trauma—like a heavy object falling on it—this could be enough to cause the toenail to turn black. When the trauma occurs, blood pools underneath the nail resulting in discoloration. Other causes include fungal infections, repeated running injuries, or ill-fitting shoes. 

A rare and more severe cause is malignant melanoma. If a melanoma is diagnosed and treated early, your chances of a positive outcome are increased. That is why seeking the attention of a podiatrist immediately is important when your toenails become black.

Toenail Treatment

Sometimes black toenails do not need to be treated. If the injury is minor, the toenail will fall off on its own and eventually a new one will grow to replace it. If your trauma was more severe, however, a podiatrist will give you a local anesthetic and remove your nail so they can take a closer look at your nail bed. If there is a laceration, it will be washed out and stitched.

Sometimes the blood needs to be drained to alleviate the pressure on your toenail. This can be done in three different ways. Your podiatrist can lift the nail, clean and medicate the area, then lower the nail back into place as a protective layer. The second way to drain the built up blood is with a sterilized needle. The needle creates a hole in the toenail for the fluid to escape. Expect a small hole to remain until the nail grows out. The final option is cautery which entails a hole being burned into the nail until the blood begins to drain.


Luckily there are plenty of things you can do to prevent your toenails from turning black. Be sure to wear proper fitting, protective shoes. This means they should have ample room for your toes! In addition, keep your nails trimmed, clean and dry, and wear moisture-wicking socks to deter the possibility of a fungal infection. If you know that you will be carrying something heavy, be extra careful, and when exercising, try not to overdo it.

If you notice any signs of discoloration, have Dr. Harvey Danciger take a look to rule out anything serious. Visit our Palm Desert, CA office or call (760) 568-0108 for an appointment. Don’t let black toenails go untreated.Let us help you alleviate the pressure and get back to enjoying your regular activities.

Dr. Harvey Danciger
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Dr. Harvey Danciger is a podiatrist and foot surgeon in Palm Desert, CA specializing in the foot and ankle