Having thick toenails could be one of the most uncomfortable things one can experience, especially when wearing shoes. It can be sometimes painful, if it is caused due to infections. There are several reasons for thick toenails. Most frequent causes of thick toenail are fungal infections, injury and psoriasis. Some of the symptoms of thick toenails include yellowing, swelling, inflammation and thickening of the toenail. Let us know more about the causes of thick toenails and some of the home remedies to treat it.
10 Causes of Thick Toenails:
One of the most frequent cause of thick toenails is Psoriasis.1 You can have thick toenails if you have psoriasis of the nails. Although, psoriasis is generally associated with red and scaly patches on the skin, it can also affect toenails and fingernails. Apart from thickening the nails, psoriasis can also cause the toenails to become loose and separate from the nail bed. This condition can also make your toenail develop ridges on them. You can prevent nail psoriasis by practicing good nail care habits.
Yellow Nail Syndrome:
Yellow nail syndrome can also be one of the cause for thick toenails.2 Yellow nail syndrome is a rare condition that causes thickening and discoloration of the toenails and fingernails. According to the reports from National Organization of Rare Disorders (NORD), yellow nail syndrome causes the nails to become thickened, yellow and excessively curved. It is noted that individuals suffering from this condition, often have swelling in the arms and legs and also respiratory problems. Though doctors do not know why yellow nail syndrome exists, it is known that in some cases, it appears to be genetic.
Paronychia refers to an infection of the skin around the nail and can cause thick toenails.3 Here, along with thick nails, there may also be redness and swelling around the nail. Chronic paronychia can not only cause thickening of the toenails or fingernails, but can also result in nail discoloration. In addition, you may also notice that the layers of your nails begin peeling. Frequent dish washing, finger sucking, trimming the cuticles too much, etc. can cause chronic paronychia. This condition can become complicated by bacterial or fungal infections. It is believed that chronic paronychia can occur in people working as cooks, dishwashers, cleaners, fishmongers, nurses and laundry workers.
This is one of the most common causes of thick toenails. As we age, our toenails become thickened.4 This is because, the older we get, the slower our body renews itself and this affects our nails. In general, it is our toenails that become thick and hard, and not the fingernails. There is no medication or treatment for treating the symptoms like ridges and lines associated with thick toenails caused due to aging. However, the brittleness of the toenails can be prevented by some light buffing and moisturizing the nails.
Thick brittle nails can be caused by major injury or trauma to the nails.5 However, even small and repeated injuries to toenails can cause thick toenails. Thick toenails resulted from injury may be sometimes mistaken for fungal infections. Sports personals, especially the runners and soccer players and people having ill-fitting shoes, are more at risk of getting thick toenails due to repetitive injuries. In such cases, you may notice that the nail of the big toe is thicker because it gets injured more often.
There may be a fungal infection in your toenail in case you notice that one or more of your toenails are thick, brittle, discolored and crumbling. In fact, nail fungal infections or Onychomycosis, are one of the most common reasons for thick toenails.6 As per The American Academy Of Family Physicians, the nail fungal infections often grow in warm and humid conditions; for example, inside sweaty footwear or walking barefoot in locker rooms. It must be noted that the fungus is contagious and sharing inadequately sanitized nail clippers and filters can spread nail fungus. The tinea fungus is often the causative organism for toenail fungus infections. This can grow on your skin, hair and also the nails. It is the same fungus that causes “Athlete’s foot”. You can prevent nail fungus developing in your toenails by not walking barefoot in public places and keeping your footwear dry.
Even poor blood circulation to the toenails can cause thick toenails. The impaired flow of blood to the toenails strips them of their necessary vitamins, minerals and nutrients. This problem is mostly diagnosed in patients with diabetes. Fungal infection can appear as a complication, leading to the toenails to become thicker.
Eczema could also cause thick toenails along with yellow colored nails. Growth of the nails is also affected here and patients describe that their toenails are not growing as much as they supposed to be.
Lichen planus is a skin condition that can cause thick and discolored toenails.7 This is frequently associated with fungal infection.
Thick toenail along with splitting toenails could also be due to Lupus. Ridges or grooves can also appear on the surface of the toenails. In severe cases, there may be nail loss where the entire affected toenail may be destroyed.
11 Home Remedies To Get Rid of Thick Toenails:
Toe nail abnormalities are treated with invasive procedures like laser therapy8 and surgery9. However, you can try out some of the home remedies to treat toe nail abnormal condition or diseases.
Tea Tree Essential Oils:
One of the best home remedies to get rid of thick toenails could be tea tree essential oils. This is a natural disinfectant possessing anti-bacterial and fungicidal properties, that is required for the treatments of toenails fungus. Tea tree oil can be mixed with orange oil and grape seed or olive oil and then by using cotton balls, you can press it firmly on the affected toenail and allow it to dry naturally. You can also alternatively mix the tea tree essential oil with water and soak your feet in this mixture for some times. You must do this at least twice a day to see best results.
Garlic, which is a well-known home remedy for many ailments can be a useful in the treatment of thick toenails. Certain compounds like Allicin and ajoene, present in Garlic, have strong antioxidant and antifungal properties. You can apply garlic oil mixed with an equal amount of white vinegar on and around the affected toenail and leave it covered for at least 3 hours. You can also alternatively eat one or two cloves of garlic daily to derive its best benefits.
Use Listerine Mouth Wash:
You can also use Listerine mouth wash as a home remedy to get rid of thick toenails. This works best because it contains alcohol and several other compounds that work as a strong antiseptic so as to keep away bacteria and fungi. Put equal portions of the mouth wash with vinegar in a tub or bucket of water and then soak your feet for about 30 minutes. After this, scrub the affected toenails gently and then rinse and dry properly. You can repeat this at least twice in a day until the infection clears away.
Use Coconut Oil:
One can try treating thick toenails naturally at home with the help of coconut oil. It is believed that coconut oil contains fatty acids that integrate and destroys the fungus membrane, by inserting themselves in the lipid layer of the fungus membrane, and thus disturbing it. Rub coconut oil on the affected area and let it be well absorbed. Apply coconut oil 2 to 3 times in a day to see significant improvements in the symptoms.
Oregano oil is highly effective in treating thick toenails naturally because of its strong antiparasitic, antiviral, antifungal and antiseptic properties, keeping the nails free from infections. You can use this oil as a home remedy for thick toenails by applying a few drops of it mixed with a teaspoon of olive oil on the affected toenail. Allow the mixture on the toenail for at least 30 minutes and then rinse it off and dry your feet and toes well. Repeating this procedure three times regularly for about 3 weeks can help you in getting rid of this condition.
Orange oil, being strongly anti-fungal, can be a useful home remedy in treating the toenail fungus. However, it is recommended that you test its use on a small spot of skin first before using it for treating the toenail; because orange oil can cause allergic reactions. For using this home remedy to treat thick toenails, apply a drop on each affected toenail and on the skin around the toenails. Leave the orange oil on for at least 30 minutes and then wash off and dry your feet. You can do this 2 to 3 times in a day for significant results.
Apple Cider Vinegar:
Apple cider vinegar contains antifungal and antibacterial properties, thus preventing infections of the toenails and the nail bed. To enjoy the benefit of apple cider vinegar, mix it with water in equal amounts and soak your toenails in the mixture for at least 30 minutes one in a day. Ensure that you dry your toenails well after soaking your feet in the mixture. You are likely to see some improvement in the thickness of the toenails after 14 to 15 days.
Baking Soda And Vinegar:
Because of the alkaline nature of baking soda, it can be used in preventing the growth and spread of fungus. Remember, fungus flourishes well in acidic environments. You will have to soak your feet in a mixture of vinegar and water first. Then afterwards, soak them in a mixture of water and baking soda so as to inhibit the growth and multiplication of the fungus which might be causing toenails to be thick. You need to repeat this remedy, twice in a day.
Epsom salts can also be used as a home remedy for thick toenails. Fill a tub or a bucket with hot water, pour the Epsom salts directly on the affected area (they will also mix into the water) and then soak your feet in the tub or the bucket. Soak for at least 30 minutes, twice or thrice in a day to see results.
Applying snakeroot extract to the toenail on a regular basis for one month, twice a week in the second month and then just once a week in the third month; can help you get rid of thick toenails.
Other Home Remedies:
Clean the affected area with water and soap regularly. Groom your nails regularly. First soften your nails by applying a urea cream and wrapping your feet in bandages at night. Then, wash off the cream and use a nail clipper and nail file to trim your nails. You can also apply Vicks Vaporub on your toenails every day. This may help the infection subside.
Preventing Thick Toenails
In order to avoid getting thick toenails, it is important to know how to prevent conditions that leads to the thickening of your toenails. You need to take proper care of your toenails and it is also advised to keep your feet and footwear dry and wear socks that absorbs sweat. It is advised that when it comes to nail care, trimming your nails straight is best. If you are visiting a nail salon for nail care, then be very much sure that you are visiting the one which maintain great hygiene. Nail fungus and bacterial infections can be easily spread through unclean equipment. Also remember that the nail polish or the artificial nails you use trap moisture and worsen the nail fungal infections.
If you are a sports person and play sports regularly, then it is good that you avoid toenail injuries by wearing proper footwear and which are not too loose or too tight. You also must not walk in public places barefoot. If your job puts you in a risk of getting chronic paronychia that might lead to thickening of toenails, then do wear protective gloves while working, keep your feet and toes dry as much as possible and moisturize your feet and toes well after washing them.
Toenail disease can last for few days or several months depending on cause of thick toenail. The treatment for thick toenail depends on cause of the disease. Toenail disease like fungal or bacterial infection needs biopsy study as well as blood examination to confirmed the cause of infection. Investigation is necessary to find out the specific type of bacteria or fungus that may have cause infection. The antifungal or antibiotic therapy should be initiated before diseases spreads in blood and become systemic disease. Kindly note that home remedies are not a replacement for medical treatments. You need to fully establish the cause of your thick toenails. And this can be appropriately done by an expert physician.
When to See Your Physician
You must see physician following reason-
- Fever- You must see physician if you are suffering with fever. Fever suggests possible systemic infection.
- Pus- Bacterial or fungal infection of toenail may cause tissue necrosis and that follows pus formation. You must consult your doctor if you see pus coming from tissue under the toenail.
- No response- If thick toe nail is not responding to home remedy therapy then you must see your physician.
- General symptoms- If you feel generalized body ache and fatigue then you must see you physician for further investigation.
- Side effects- If you are experiencing side effects to substance use for home remedy then you should consult your primary care physician or specialist.
- Deep injury- If you think your nail is partially or completely separated from nail bed then you must see physician.
- Psoriasis– If you are receiving treatment for psoriasis from dermatologist or your primary care physician then you must consult him for treatment of thick toenail.
Nail psoriasis: clinical features, pathogenesis, differential diagnoses, and management
Yellow nail syndrome: A rare entity
Indian Dermatol Online J. 2014 Oct-Dec; 5(4): 529–531.
Management of Chronic Paronychia
Common nail changes and disorders in older people: Diagnosis and management
Nail bed injuries and deformities of nail
Fungal Nail Infections (Onychomycosis): A Never-Ending Story?
Update on lichen planus and its clinical variants☆
Clinical laser treatment of toenail onychomycoses
Surgical treatment of acute fingernail injuries
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