Why Are My Toenails Falling Off: Causes, Care, Prevention

Nails and claws require a lot of calcium to grow, A toenail can fall off, become dead, get infected, become thick and brittle, or become ingrown.

If your toenail has fallen off, it can’t reattach itself. The event may redden, throb, burn, tingle, or cause pain in the toe.

A beautiful set of toenails adds beauty and attractiveness to the person. Nails are indicators that reflect the healthiness of the body.

Nails protect the toes from injuries and help hold them together. They protect the tips of the toe-bones and make them strong.

Big toenails falling off is the most difficult for us to bear and make us uncomfortable.

A Medical Purview Of Toenail Falling Off

The issue of a toenail coming off is called onycholysis in medical terms. It simply means the separation of toenails from the nail bed.

It is not a disease but a symptom of fungal infections or other bodily ailments. Any traumatic injury to the nail can also lead to the occurrence of onycholysis.

The dead toenail usually comes off painlessly. However, inflammatory fungal infections on the nail can be very painful. In such cases, even after the separation of the nails from the nail bed, the pain and soreness will continue until the inflammation is healed.

Sometimes, the infected nails do not fall off but become dead and brittle. Such nails gradually get removed in small, cracked bits and pieces.

Onychomycosis, or onychomadesis, is the main cause of dead toenails. It is a toenail fungus that changes the color and structure of the nails.

In many cases, a deadly nail infection is triggered by another fungal infection called an athlete’s foot, which usually affects the skin around the nails. The affected skin may be itchy, red, scaly, dry, cracked, or blistered. In severe cases of athlete’s foot, the infection spreads to the nails, resulting in onychomycosis.

Symptoms of Onycholysis And Onychomycosis

Discoloration of the nail is the first indication of possible separation of the nails from the nail bed.

You can expect the nail to fall off soon if it becomes increasingly loose and shaky. Loose nails can cause pain and irritation, especially when they rub against footwear or a hard surface.

Fungus-infected nails could come off if these symptoms exist:

  • nails have become unusually thick,
  • pain or swelling around the nail,
  • nail’s color changes to yellow, brown, or green,
  • redness, blisters, or pus formation on the skin tissues surrounding the nail,
  • a foul smell emanates from the affected nails,
  • puss discharge from under the nail,
  • damage to the skin cells around the nail.

A traumatic injury could make a toenail to fall off and this includes symptoms like:

  • discoloration of the nail to pale white or dark shades,
  • constant pain and swelling of skin tissues surrounding the nail,
  • clotting of blood under the nail bed (subungual hematoma),
  • bleeding around or under the nails,
  • a nail becomes loose and shaky.

Not all of these symptoms must be present to indicate the impending separation of the nails from the toes. The nail may also come off for underlying causes without exhibiting apparent symptoms.

Why Do Toenails Fall Off

Some might wonder, “Why do my toenails keep falling off?”

Losing your nails is painful, and there are many reasons for this seemingly innocuous incident.

According to Dr. Hazel Oon, Associate Consultant Dermatologist of the National Skin Centre (NSC), “traumatic injuries to the nails, if not treated on time, can lead to the collapse of nails.”

Onychomadesis is a periodic, idiopathic shedding of the nails, beginning at the proximal end. The immediate reason for onychomadesis is the temporary arrest of the functions of the nail matrix.

Onycholysis is the painless separation of the nail from the nail bed. It occurs as a result of nail infections, traumatic injuries, or as an external symptom of an internal disease.

Here are the 10 common reasons that cause the nail to fall off or die:

1. Fungal infections

It is the most common reason for many types of nail damage. A fungal toenail infection results in discolored or yellow, thickened, damaged, or broken toenails, eventually leading to a detached toenail. Local infectious irritation in the nail bed can make the nails dead and loose.

2. Injuries

Many people lose their nails because of severe injuries to the nails.

The nail can pry away from the nail bed when the nail is seriously damaged by heavy hits or jamming.

Toenails might also get detached because of repetitive toenail stubbing.

Athletes may lose toenails by wearing shoes that aren’t roomy enough.

3. Athlete’s foot disease

A dermatophyte infection that causes athlete’s foot disease around the toes can spread rapidly and transfer to the toenail beds, resulting in onychomycosis. This can cause your toenail to detach from the nail bed.

4. Hand, foot, and mouth disease

Some people, especially children, who suffer from “hand, foot, and mouth disease”, experience peeling nails, nail shedding, or nail loss, also known as onychomadesis.

5. Chemical reactions

Nails can be hurt by too much filling, exposure to chemicals in manicures and hairstyling, acetone nail polish removers, or soap.

6. Water and dampness

Nail erosion occurs when nails are immersed in water or damp surfaces for an extended period. Water-soaked nails become brittle and breeding grounds for fungal activity.

7. Loss of blood supply

Blood flow to the nail bed can get blocked due to injuries or infections. The nail matrix stops functioning when the supply of blood is stopped, which may cause toenails to fall off.

8. Psoriasis

The illnesses that could make toenails fall off include diabetes and psoriasis.

Severe psoriasis infection, an autoimmune condition, on the nails can make nails dead, eventually peeling them off.

9. Side effects of medicines

Certain medications, such as tetracycline, psoralen, naproxen, minocycline, etc., make a person experience unusual sensitivity to light. This can cause sunburns under the nails, which may lead to onycholysis. Medicines used for diseases, like chemotherapy or antimalarials, can put you at risk of losing a toenail.

10. Iron, calcium, and biotin deficiency

Iron, calcium, and biotin are important nutrients required for healthy nails. Acute deficiency in these nutrients can make the nail brittle, loose, or prone to shedding.

What Happens When Your Toenail Falls Off

If you have lost a nail, you need not be overly worried about the issue. You can wait patiently for a new nail to grow in place of the lost one.

It is certainly going to cause you some discomfort until you get used to the situation.

The lost nail due to a fungal infection or an injury will grow again. Usually, in about 6 months to a year lost toenail grows back.

The proper regrowth of the nail depends on various factors. The epithelial cells in the nail matrix must be in healthy condition.

There is no guarantee the lost nail will regrow properly if the nail matrix is also fully damaged by the infection or injury.

The cells in epithelial cells need to receive enough amounts of protein and keratin to achieve faster growth of the nail.

The regrowth of lost nails takes place faster in children, but in older individuals, it may take longer depending on health conditions, diet, season, and location.

What Should You Do When Your Toenail Falls Off

After the nail falls off, the first thing for you to do is to completely heal the infection or injury.

When the whole nail is detached, you could seek the help of your podiatrist to clear and remove the leftover particles of the lost nail. This would prevent further infection and allow for faster growth of the new nail.

Care must be taken to protect the nail bed from getting damaged or infected. If nail beds are damaged, the future growth of new nails becomes a distant possibility.

At the initial stages of nail infection or injury, we should be trying to save the nails that are in danger of being lost.

Nails that are loose or have fallen off can be fixed in different ways, depending on what caused the problem.

Basic treatments are meant to save the nail from coming off. These are to be performed at the initial stages of the infection, injury, or another disease that affects the nail.

For fungal infections, both topical and oral medications are prescribed. There are also many natural remedies for nail fungal infections that you can try.

Antifungal gels, lotions, creams, diets, and nail polishes are beneficial in treating mild to moderate fungal infections. Antifungal ointments on the skin can also stop infections from spreading from one toe to the next.

Laser treatment also eliminates the fungus growth and infections underneath the nails.

In severe cases of fungal infection or injuries, removing the deformed and painful nails may be necessary.

Matrixectomy is the commonly used procedure for removing nails; this method may also be used to stifle the regrowth of deformed nails.

Most of the time, anti-inflammatory drugs treat hurt nails to reduce pain, swelling, and bacterial infections.

Timely treatment should be done for the skin tissues affected by diseases such as psoriasis, athlete’s foot, ‘foot and mouth disease’, etc. This will help ward off potential threats from severe nail infections resulting in the separation of nails.

If your toenails are partially torn or broken, then you could try the following treatments to save and allow the regrowth of the nail:

  • Give the damaged nail your undivided attention to avoid the toenail from falling off;
  • Vigilantly follow the medications prescribed by your podiatrist;
  • Regularly trim the nail neatly across the tip;
  • Clinically remove the partially detached nail with the help of a manicurist;
  • Use topical treatments to prevent infection and promote faster healing of wounds;
  • Protect the nail with a bandage when you are walking around.

Tips For Preventing Nails From Falling Off

Many people lose their nails due to a lack of care and timely intervention in getting rid of nail fungal infections.

We can’t help the sudden separation of nails from the nail bed due to an accidental injury. However, nails coming off due to reasons like infections and diseases are preventable to a great extent through proper care and medication.

Let us now look at a few important, necessary steps or actions you must initiate to stop loose or dead nail problems.

  • The socks and shoes that you wear should be clean and dry.
  • Your shoes must be made of breathable materials.
  • Your footwear must give stability, balance, and protection to your nails and feet.
  • Wash and clean your nails daily.
  • Never soak your nails or toes in the water or leave them in a moist environment for more than 30 minutes.
  • Do not tear or rip the nails that are partially torn.
  • Medicate and bandage the damaged nails till they are fully regrown.
  • Seek medical help at the first instance of any visible symptoms of potential damage to your nail.
  • Wear industrial boots while engaging in activities and work that can injure or cause infection to your nails.
  • Your shoes should have enough breathing room for the toenails.
  • Do not walk barefoot in contaminated or filthy surroundings.

The Final Thought

Nails are important parts of our body that give our toes and fingers protection, strength, and beauty.

Losing a toenail may cause a bit of discomfort and pain, but it is possible to regrow the lost nails with proper care and medication. In case of an infection, you should see a doctor for the right treatment.

Depending on which toenail fell off, it may take six months to two years for the nail to fully grow back.

The best possible care and preventive steps should be taken to avoid losing nails. Do not pull out the nail that is slightly loose or damaged. Let it fall off naturally.

Timely treatment and care of fungal infections and nail injuries can help prevent the nails from coming off.

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