Toenail Problems

Toenail Problems ~ The nails found in our body support and protect the sensitive tips of your fingers and toes. They help you pick up objects, scratch an irritating itch or untie a knot. Fingernails grow about three times faster than other nails. 

A Must-Read: How to Cut Toenails if You Can’t Reach ThemOpens in a new tab.

Like all the important things, these nails experience or encounter problems in the course of their role in our lives. Nail problems affect people of all ages.

It is not always a diet that is responsible for the abnormal changes witnessed on nails from time to time, that is unless you have a severe problem of malnutrition. Some of these nail conditions require special care from dermatologists.

However, others will respond to self-help home techniques and minor lifestyle changes. Whatever your option, seek medical advice if you are unsure of your nail problems.

Also, these conditions can affect anyone, but it is noted to be more common among older people.

Common Causes of Toenail Problems Include:

Toenail Problems
  • Black toenail
  • Trauma
  • Infection – Most of which arise from, ill-fitting shoes, poor circulation, and nail cracks. A podiatrist can successfully treat these problems.
  • Injury
  • Black and blue nail
  • Skin diseases

Understanding the Nail Structure

Toenail Problems

For you to successfully follow the difficulties encountered by these essential body parts and how to care for them properly, you need to know the structure of the nail in general.

Nails are made from a protein known as keratin. The same protein that makes up the entire skin and hair.

These nails grow from cells that multiply within the base of the nail, then layer on top of another until it hardens, a process known as keratinization.

The strength and thickness of the nail are characteristics that are inherited from parents.

The Nail Structure Includes:

Toenail Problems

The nail matrix where nail growth occurs. They appear tucked under the skin behind the nail.

The nail plate is the visible part of the nail. It usually appears pink because of blood rich capillaries in the nail bed. The nail bed is located on top of the nail bed.

The lunula, is the crescent moon shape that you observe at the base of the nail plate. The nail folds which is the slender skin groove that hold the nail plate in place. And finally, the cuticle which is a flap of thin tissue over the base of the nail plate.

The Various Nail Conditions

Toenail Problems

Some conditions can affect your nails, with different causes and treatments. These conditions change the nail structure in one way or the other, both the fingernails and the toenails.

Nail Discolorations

Toenail Problems

The healthy nail plate is usually pink in color, and the nail appears white as it grows off the nail bed.

Causes of discolored nails typically include:

  • A nail polish
  • The nicotine from cigarette smoking for smokers,
  • Hair-coloring chemical agents,
  • Bacterial or fungal infections
  • Injury to the nail bed
  • Some medications, including antibiotics, anti-malarial medications, and some medications used in chemotherapy, can affect the color of the nails.

Infection and allergic reactions are also common problems caused by artificial nails, mostly used by women.


This mostly affects the fingernail. It happens when your nails have thickened and a curve around forms around your fingertips. This process happens over the years.


This is when your fingernails have raised ridges and tended to scoop outwards like a spoon. The nail could curve enough to be able to hold a drop of liquid.

White Spots

The fingernails can develop a non-uniform white line or spots on the nail. They do result from minor trauma but are harmless in healthy individuals. It associated with both nutritional deficiencies and poor health.

A Lifted Nail Plate

At the time the nail plate lifts off the nail bed, and it appears white. The most common causes include:

  • Frequent cleaning under the fingernails.
  • Nail polishes that contain hardening chemicals such as formalin when applied can cause the nail plate to lift off.
  • Rough removal of artificial nails particularly in women.
  • The rapid build-up of skin cells that form scales.
  • A fungal infection can also weaken the nail plate and cause a lift-off.

Thickened Nails

This type of nail condition affects the toenails more than the fingernails. Older people are at greater risk, their age, tend to forget, and poor vision makes them susceptible to this type of condition.

The major causes include:

  • Fungal infections due to moist feet and warm temperatures.
  • Neglect from their children or caregivers.
  • Injury due to poor vision, they have trouble viewing objects that can cause them harm.
  • Poor circulation of blood to their limbs.
  • Arthritis in the toes.
  • Altered gait pattern, this is mainly walking.
  • Ill-fitting shoes. Shoes that squeeze the toes, and makes one uncomfortable.
  • A build-up of skin cells and form scales.

If you suffer from thick nails and want tips on how to cut them, check out this article.

Ridged Nails

Ridges are running either the vertical nail ridges which are fairly common. The vertical nail ridges are generally due to the variations in the cell turnover within your nail, or horizontally of the nail plate can have some causes.

These include:

  • Age-related changes and various conditions.
  • Trauma mostly to the nail matrix.
  • Too much attention to the cuticles
  • The itchy inflammation that occurs on the skin.

Splitting Nails

In this type of condition, the nail plate splits or layers as it grows off the nail bed.

Common causes include:

  • Having constantly wet hands, especially while using soap and washing detergents or even clothes.
  • Frequently using and removing nail polish form the fingernails, as in the case of women.
  • Continuous mild trauma such as habitual finger-tapping on hard surfaces or using the nails as tools to pick between the teeth, or to remove any hard object from a surface.

Deformed or Brittle Nails

Deformed Nails

Accidents such as; violent toe-stubbing, dropping a heavy object on the toe or some other trauma can injure the nail bed and cause the nail to develop in a deformed way.

The nail may also be thickened or ridged. It is a normal aging process for nails to thicken as they form.

Bacterial Infection of the Nail

The bacteria species- Staphylococcus aureus is a common cause of bacterial infection of the nail. It is typical for the infection to first take hold in the fold of skin at the base of the nail.

Without treatment, the bacterial infection can worsen, leading to inflammation and pus. It is often associated with a candida infection.

These are some of the activities that predispose a person to a bacterial nail infection include:

  • Having constantly wet hands which provides a good environment for bacterial growth,
  • Impertinent attention to the nail cuticles,
  • Extreme nail-biting, which can expose the underlying tissues to bacterial infection
  • And skin inflammation around the fingernails.

Paronychia Condition

Inflammation of the skin alongside the nail which in turn leads to the skin lying alongside the nail to become infected with bacteria. This infection is called paronychia.

Pain, redness and swelling around the cuticle and yellow-green discharge is a common characteristic of this type of condition.

The condition is usually brought about by; the wetness of the feet from time to time, not applying barrier creams, antiseptic lotions and antifungal preparations.

Chronic paronychia is more difficult to treat even with a dermatologist. In chronic paronychia, the nail may distort and become discolored as in blue or black, and the skin may lift at the site of infection.

Sometimes, the inflammation spreads from one nail to another this is made possible by a range of micro-organisms working together that are responsible for chronic paronychia.

Fungal Infection

Fungal infections have a variety of range, some infections such as tinea, are spread from one person to another and can affect the fingernails or toenails. Without treatment, and proper care the nail bed itself can become infected.

A person with diabetes with a compromised immune system is more susceptible to the fungal infection.

The characteristics of a fungal nail infection depend on the cause of the infection, which may include:

  • Lifting of the nail plate off the nail bed and exposing the whole area.
  • Thickening of the nail plate as it develops,
  • Crumbling of the nail plate,
  • White, yellow or green smelly discharge,
  • Flaking and pitting of the surface of the nail plate,
  • And at times discoloration of the toenail.

Trauma to the Nail

A hit to the nail or compulsive nail-biting that they become too short can cause a range of problems, including:

  • Severe bruising of the nail bed
  • A lifting of the nail plate
  • Loss of the nail plate
  • Formation of nail ridges
  • The deformed growth of the nail plate, this can occur if the nail matrix is injured

An Ingrown Toenail

This is one of the most common nail problems treated by podiatrists- an ingrown toenail. The big toe of the foot is particularly prone to this painful condition. Find out what home remedies you can use to fix your ingrown nail here.

The main causes may include:

  • An incorrect toenail-trimming technique
  • Trauma such as stubbing your toes, or a heavy object falling on it
  • Nails that naturally curve sharply on the sides and dig into the skin of the foot
  • Wearing tight shoes, that will keep your feet uncomfortable

Skin Diseases and Nails

The skin diseases such as psoriasis, lichen planus or lupus can affect the nails. The abnormalities may include pits, grooves or crumbling nails and even lifting nails.

Unusual Nail Shape

The unusual nail shape cases such as the nails becoming concave can be caused by iron deficiency in the body.

Beau’s Lines

These are depressions that run across your fingernails, this usually is a result of malnourishment, but it can be due to other conditions such as;

  • Uncontrolled diabetes
  • Scarlet fever
  • Peripheral vascular disease
  • Pneumonia
  • Zinc deficiency

Nail Tumors

Nail tumors can also affect your nails. Some of the nail tumors, including squamous cell carcinoma, are usually caused by infection with the human papillomavirus (HPV)- a sexually transmitted disease.

It is an infection that causes the development of warts in various parts of the body depending on the type of strain. Melanoma is also a form of tumor that can affect your nails.

Splinter Hemorrhages of the Nail

The splinter hemorrhages are thin lines of blood running along the nail bed. Its’ major causes include injury, severe anemia condition, inflammation of the inner tissue of the heart and other diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis.

Important to note!

Some diseases affect the nails in one way or another. These diseases are mostly internal. Some of these diseases that can affect the shape, integrity, and color of your nails include:

  • Lung diseases
  • Heart disease
  • Kidney disease
  • Liver disease
  • Thyroid disease

Aside from external factors that affect the nail conditions, there is a fundamental factor that might come along with them. These congenital disorders of the nails are inherited from parents and are present at birth.

Congenital Disorders of Nails

These nail disorders include; the nail-patella syndrome, where the nails are improperly formed or missing.

There are minor fingernail and toenail problems which are quite common. At one time or another, almost everyone has caught a nail on something, causing pain. Smashed a finger in a door, accumulating blood under the particular nail.

These kinds of injuries are usually not dangerous but can be painful.

As it happens, fingernails grow about one-tenth of a millimeter each day. Toenails develop at about one-half or one-third the rate of the fingernails. Aging and diseases that decrease blood flow to the hands and feet may slow the growth of the nails.

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