You wake up one morning, just happen to look down at your feet, and notice that you’re losing toenails for seemingly no good reason. It would be understandable if you panicked, thinking something was seriously wrong. What caused this? Will they grow back? What can you do about it?
Losing toenails can be alarming, and sometimes painful as well. Let’s take a look at some of the causes of loose nails, and some of the things you might be able to do to keep it from happening again.
Is Losing Toenails Common?
It’s actually fairly common for people to suffer certain nail disorders, such as an ingrown toenail or even toenails that become loose. When it comes to loose toenails, there’s actually a medical term for the condition – onycholysis.
Onycholysis is the condition that results in the loosening of a toenail from the nail bed.
This may begin at the tip of the nail, also known as the distal nail.
In many instances, the first signs of problems include discolored nails. This is an indication that the skin and nail have separated for some reason. Nail shedding will often occur after the nail becomes loose. This could also result in pain.1
Now, there are some cases where medications may be required. You may need to call a doctor in order to keep any sort of infection from occurring, or to keep the nail bed or nail plate from becoming permanently damaged. A doctor can also suggest the best course of treatment.2
Common Causes of Loose Nails
In general, two culprits are typically to blame if you’re losing toenails. One is a fungal nail infection, while the other is some sort of direct trauma to the nails.
A fungus just might be the reason why nails can separate from the nail plate or nail bed. The most common reason these problems occur is a type of fungus known as a dermatophyte. This fungus feeds on keratin, a substance that is found in human skin and nails.
But dermatophytes can do much more than cause the loss of toenails. They can also cause other foot problems, like athlete’s foot. When this type of fungus infects the feet, it can quickly spread to the toenails, causing them to loosen and possibly fall off.
When it comes to treatments, antifungal medications may be needed. Again, a doctor can give you the best recommendations based on your specific symptoms.4
Can Bacteria Cause Nail Loss?
A type of bacteria known as staphylococcus aureus can lead to not only nail loss, but also potentially dangerous staph infections. If these bacteria get into the blood vessels, they can, in some instances, lead to major illnesses affecting the lungs or heart.
One of the ways staphylococcus aureus and other harmful bacteria get on the feet is through showering in public places, such as a gym locker room.
Taking some simple precautions can help you avoid problems. For example, wear shoes when walking on a locker room floor and wear shower shoes in the shower.5
Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease
This viral illness is relatively common among children. In some instances, it can lead to damage to the nail bed and, eventually, nail loss. While it usually affects children younger than age 5, hand, foot and mouth disease can happen to anyone.6
Symptoms usually include a lack of appetite, fever, back pain, and a sore throat. Other symptoms include a rash on the soles of the feet as well as the palms, elbows, and knees. Toenail loss has been associated with this condition, but nails will typically grow back over time.7
Psoriasis is typically thought of as a skin condition, leading to scaly patches as well as pain, itchiness, and burning.8But this condition can also result in loose nails.
As it turns out, psoriasis can cause problems affecting the nails, including:
- Nail discoloration (nails can turn yellow or brown)
- Thickening of nails
- Separation of the nail from the toe
- Blood underneath the nail
If you suspect nail psoriasis has caused your nail issues, it’s important to see a dermatologist. They can prescribe medications that may help. The problem needs to be addressed so that further complications don’t develop. In some cases, nail psoriasis can get so bad it can make it hard to walk.9
What are Some Common Injuries to Nail Bed and Nail Plate?
Now, there are many potential causes of direct nail trauma, an injury to the nail. Accidentally closing a door on your toe, for example, can lead to bleeding under your nail – known as a subungual hematoma. Pressure from this kind of hematoma can be quite painful.
There are several types of direct trauma that can lead to a subungual hematoma. These are just a few examples.
- Dropping something on your toe
- Jamming a toe into something like a door or a piece of furniture
In addition, wearing shoes that don’t fit correctly, over time, can cause nail deformities that look somewhat like a fungal infection. Thickening of the nails can occur, which can eventually lead to separation from the nail bed or nail plate.
It will typically take about four months or so for toenails to grow back after a hematoma or repetitive injury. However, if the injury caused damage to the nail bed, you might notice a difference in how the nail looks.10
Uncommon Causes of Toenail Loss
People can suffer toenail loss in some strange ways. One young woman lost toenails after getting what’s known as a “fish pedicure.” Yes, some people dip their feet in water-filled tubs and let tiny fish nibble away at skin calluses.
If you’re a woman looking for ways to keep your feet looking beautiful, you might want to just stick to regular pedicures, with a nice nail polish for some flair. Just make sure the pedicurist is licensed and uses clean, sterile tools.
How Can You Prevent Loss of Toenails?
Now, there are a few things you can do to help keep from losing toenails. To help reduce the chances of a fungal infection, for example, always dry your feet thoroughly after they get wet. Also, make sure you wear clean socks every day, and rotate your shoes every day if possible.
If you work at a job where you are at a risk of dropping objects on your feet, wear shoes with steel reinforcement in the toe.
Keep your toenails trimmed as well.
If you do suffer a torn toenail, apply a bandage (not too tight, though, because you don’t want to cut off blood flow to the area) as soon as possible, and get to your doctor. Don’t try to tear off a partially torn nail, because that could lead to permanent toenail loss.11
Don’t Panic if You Notice You’re Losing Toenails
In the vast majority of instances, a loose toenail doesn’t mean you have any sort of major problem. Nail disorders, even ones that cause bleeding, may be alarming, but they’re usually not serious. That doesn’t mean these kinds of problems should be ignored.
Talk to your doctor if you notice bleeding in your toenails, or if you experience unexpected nail shedding. Your doctor will be able to suggest the best treatment, so you can keep any potential health risks to a minimum.
Learn More About Toenails:
Help! I Have A Weird Black Spot Under My Toenail
What Do Toenail Ridges Mean? (and should I be concerned?)
Toenail Fungus!? Don’t Worry – 5 Solutions To Get Rid Of It Fast