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Brittle Toenails, Causes, Symptoms, Dry, Thick, Treatment, Home Remedies

Brittle toenails are hard but liable to break or shatter easily. The condition of your nail may change throughout your life they, however, become hard as you grow older.  

Brittle nails can also be a sign of an underlying condition such as vitamin deficiency, diabetes among others.

Here are possible causes of brittleness, symptoms, treatment and natural home remedies you can use to stop your toenails from cracking, splitting or peeling.

What causes brittle toenails?

There are a lot of medical conditions that can affect the shape and texture of both your toenails and fingernails. When your nails become brittle, there are susceptible to cracking, becoming chipped, split or peeled. Most of these symptoms are observed as signs of aging.

Brittle toenails can be a sign of any of the following conditions:

1. Vitamin deficiency

Though very rare, nutritional and vitamin deficiency can be the underlying cause of brittle nails. Lack of iron or biotin (a complex B vitamin) can lead to brittle nails.

In most cases, vitamin and nutritional deficiency can be caused by an underlying medical condition that hinders proper absorption of the said nutrients.

2. Diabetes

When your nails are thick, yellow and brittle, this can be a sign of diabetes, a medical condition in which your body is unable to respond to the hormone insulin.

People with diabetes have an abnormal metabolism of carbohydrates and increased levels of blood sugar. Thick yellow toenails is a common sign of diabetes.

3. Fungal infection

Brittle nails are a common symptom of a fungal infection of the nail known as onychomycosis. When the cause of the cracking and peeling is a fungal infection, other symptoms would include discoloration or dulling of the toenails natural shine, and change in shape and texture to the nail.

Nail fungus

To treat a nail fungal infection, your dermatologist may prescribe a course of oral and topical antifungal medication.

Most fungal infections are contagious, to prevent the spread, avoid sharing soak, shoes or walking barefooted in public places like swimming pool and washrooms.

4. Thyroid disorder

Brittle nails can also be a sign of an underactive or overactive thyroid. Though both an underactive and overactive thyroid can cause nail problems, an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism) is most the most likely cause of brittle toenails.

Hypothyroidism occurs when your thyroid glands do not make enough thyroid hormone. These glands are located in the front lower part of your neck.

The hormones released from these glands travel through your bloodstream and affects every part of a human body. Apart from brittle nails, other symptoms will include the following:

  • Constipation
  • Depression
  • Dry skin
  • Puffy eyelids
  • Slow heart rate
  • Goiter or swollen thyroid glands
  • Weak hair

5. Dry nails

Just like your skin, your toenails can become brittle when dry. This is often as a result of repeated exposure to moisture, dry and brittle nails are exacerbated by low atmospheric humidity. When dry, your nails may crack, peel or break.

When this is the causes, you can easily treat them at home by soaking and applying lotion

6. Aging

Your nails may become brittle as a part of the natural aging process. When this is the underlying cause, you can try to minimize the damage by keeping your toenails trimmed and well moisturized.

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Avoid wearing constrictive shoes or picking on the nails also, you need to avoid nails polish as most contain chemicals that can cause further damage making the nails more brittle.

7. Lichen planus

Lichen planus is an inflammatory condition that can affect the nails, skin and the mucous membrane that lines the inside of the mouth. When occurring on the skin, lichen planus will often appear as purplish, often itchy flat-topped bumps.

Lichen planus is non-contagious and only occurs when your immune system starts to attack cells of the skin. The actual cause for this is not known. Anyone can develop this condition.

8. Nail psoriasis

Psoriasis can affect both your fingernails and toenails causing pitting, discoloration and abnormal growth. Being a chronic condition, it can cause your nails to become brittle or crumbly.

9. Long use of nail polish

Brittle nails can also be a side effect of the long use of nail polish. Nail polish contains a lot of chemicals that when used for long can cause your nails to become brittle among other modifications.

Nail polish can also build up over time causing your nails to have a stain. Most nail polish contains formaldehyde, a chemical that reacts with keratin in your nails to form a yellow stain.

Nail polish also makes it hard for oxygen to penetrate to the nail bed, this makes it hard to fight off infections such as warts and nail fungus.

Symptoms

Brittle toenails are nothing to be ashamed of. It is a common condition with a lot of people suffering from it. When your toenail is brittle, they lose their strength, this is what makes them easy to break. Brittle nails may show the following symptoms:

  1. Dry brittle nails with ridges are common in old people, this can be attributed to slow growth rate and reduce blood circulation.
  2. Cracked brittle nails can cause pain and often opens up your body for possible infections including fungal and bacterial
  3. Thick brittle nails will often result from increased production of keratin that forms the nails.
  4. Thin brittle nails can be a sign of vitamin and nutritional deficiency. Taking biotin supplement has been found to be an effective way to correct such deficiencies causing brittle nails.
  5. Yellow brittle toenails is a common sign of a fungal infection. According to the National Library of Medicine, around 12% of US population suffer from fungal infection.
  6. Toenails breaking off; since Brittle nail are weak this makes them break more easily than they would normally.

Treating brittle nails

Treating brittle nails will either target specific nails or underlying condition causing the symptoms, for this reason, treatment may vary depending on what the underlying cause is.

In most of the cases, especially with fungal infections, both oral and topical medication will be used. Normally, it takes more than five months for your nails to grow, therefore it might take some time for treatment to properly work.

For yellow brittle nails, zinc supplements, biotin, and Vitamin E supplements can be used to get rid of the yellow strain and promote the overall health of both your toenails and fingernails.

To prevent any complications, have your healthcare provider prescribe the right supplements. Report any changes that occur to your doctor, if the treatment fails to work, there are other alternatives your doctor might prescribe.

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Biotin has been shown to strengthen weak, and brittle nails. You could try over the counter biotin supplements such as Appearex.

Home remedies for brittle toenails

Depending on what the underlying cause of brittle nails is, there are some effective home remedies you can use to manage symptoms. Some of these remedies include the following:

1. Hydrogen peroxide

Soaking your feet in a solution of hydrogen peroxide and white vinegar is the other effective way to treat feet fungus at home. All you need to do is mix equal parts of hydrogen peroxide 3% and white vinegar then dip your feet in this solution for 20 minutes.

2. Wash with tea tree oil

Tea tree oil is a natural antiseptic and a potential fungicide. When used on skin, it can help kill and treat fungal infections. Tea oil is said to contain an active ingredient known as terpenoids that can make your nail healthy.

To prepare an effective tea oil remedy:

  • Mix equal amounts of tea tree oil, lavender oil, and olive oil
  • Use a cotton ball to apply the mixture on your toenails
  • For broken nails, do this until the nail has fully grown

3. Olive oil

Olive oil is rich in different polyphenols and hydroxybenzoic acids that work as both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory nutrients. To prepare an effective remedy with olive oil:

  • Mix the oil with freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • Apply the mixture to the toenails or soak your feet in the solution
  • Repeat this until the results become noticeable

4. Apple cider vinegar

Vinegar is an effective remedy especially when the cause of brittle nails is a fungal infection.  White vinegar, for instance, has 5% acetic acid then applied on skin helps kill the fungus. To use the remedy:

  • Mix equal parts apple cider vinegar and olive oil in warm water
  • Soak your toenails in this mixture for 30 minutes
  • You will need to do this at least twice a day

5. Listerine

Listerine is said to be an effective antiseptic with strong antifungal properties that can help fight fungi under the nails. To use these remedy,

  • Add 4 tablespoons of Listerine in a basin ¼ full of warm water
  • Soak your feet in this solution for 30 minutes
  • Do this twice a day until the infection clears and your nails become strong again

To prevent brittle

There are some things you can do to prevent your toenails for breaking, cracking or peeling. Most of the symptoms of brittle nails can be prevented by:

  • Making sure to keep your toenails are clean and dry when wearing shoes
  • Regularly trim your toenails
  • Keep your feet and nails well moisturized
  • You could also apply a nail hardener to keep them strong
  • Wear fitted shoes, avoid ill-fitting shoes to prevent trauma and nail injuries
  • Wear protective gear to protect your nails while working

References:

  1. Nail problems and injuries: https://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/tc/nail-problems-and-injuries-topic-overview#1
  2. Cause and treatment of brittle nails: https://www.belmarrahealth.com/brittle-toenails-causes-home-remedies/
  3. Why your toenails are thick and yellow: https://treatpanel.com/yellow-toenails-thick-causes-get-rid/
  4. Treatment options of brittle nails: http://www.footvitals.com/toenails/brittle-toenails.html
  5. Nail abnormality: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/nail-abnormalities/Pages/Introduction.aspx

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