Nails are made from keratin, the same type of protein that is in your hair, skin, and other parts of your body. The visible part of your nail is already “dead” so you can cut it without pain, but nails need blood flow to grow. When a nail falls off, it can take you by surprise, especially if it hasn’t been causing you any pain. It might worry you, but there could be several reasons for it to happen.
What can cause your toenails to fall off?
If one of your toenails has fallen off or is coming off, you might be concerned about it. It’s a very common occurrence and might or might not hurt. Understanding why it’s happening can help you to get the right treatment.
One of the most common reasons for a toenail to fall off is due to injury. Even if the injury didn’t hurt much at the time or no longer hurts, the trauma could still cause the nail to fall off. You could hurt your toe in lots of ways, from stubbing it on some furniture to a sports injury, tripping and falling, a car accident, and more.
Fungal infections in your nails can eventually cause the nail to fall off. The fungal infection can grow between the nail bed and the nail, which causes it to look discolored, brittle, dry, or thicker. There might also be an odor, or the nail might be an unusual shape. Fungal infections in the toenail can be a result of athlete’s foot, and people with diabetes can have a higher risk.
Psoriasis is an autoimmune condition that affects the skin and other parts of the body. It causes skin cells to build up and can sometimes affect the toenails. It’s often mild, but it can sometimes cause the nail to fall off. Psoriasis in toenails might cause them to look thicker, be an unusual shape, or turn brown or yellow.
Should I be worried if my toenail falls off?
Much of the time, when a toenail falls off, it’s nothing to worry about. The nail can’t be put back, but it can grow back. Within a few months to a year, you’re likely to see it grow back. However, if the toe won’t stop bleeding or if you’re in a lot of pain, you should see a doctor. You may need further medical treatment to help ensure your toe is healthy.
What serious illness causes toenails to fall off?
Two illnesses that could cause toenails to fall off include diabetes and psoriasis. Having diabetes increases your chances of getting a fungal infection called onychomycosis, which usually affects the toenails. The nail can turn yellow and brittle and might also fall off.
People with psoriasis might sometimes experience their toenails falling off too. Although psoriasis usually affects the skin, it can affect the toenails and lead to them falling off.
What to do when a toenail falls off
Much of the time, there’s nothing to worry about when a toenail falls off. It might not look very nice, but it’s probably not serious.
If your toenail falls off, the priority is usually keeping it clean and preventing further injury. Here are some things you can do:
- Use over-the-counter pain medication if you’re feeling any pain
- Clean your toe
- Apply an antibacterial cream or ointment to prevent infection
- Apply a bandage – you can do this if the nail hasn’t completely come off to prevent it from being ripped off or if the nail has already fallen off to protect your toe
- Don’t remove the rest of the nail if only part of it has fallen off
- Elevate your foot – this can reduce any swelling
- Get treatment from a doctor
When you lose a toenail, will it grow back?
Toenails will usually grow back after they have fallen off. However, how long it takes can vary. A nail might completely regrow within a few months to a year. In some cases, it could take up to two years for a toenail to grow back completely. How quickly the toenail grows back can depend on why it fell off. If trauma was the cause, it could grow back quicker. However, if a nail fungus caused the nail to fall off, it could take at least a year for it to grow back. Other factors can affect the rate of regrowth too, including age.
When to see a doctor
You should see a doctor if a toenail suddenly falls off or if your toe is bleeding and won’t stop. A doctor can help you to treat any immediate concerns, such as bleeding, as well as determine the cause of your toenail falling off if you’re not sure what caused it. They can also provide further advice on how to take care of your toe and prevent any further injury.
Get help from an online doctor
Are you short on time, or do you have other reasons it’s difficult to get to a doctor? Seeing a doctor online can eliminate all of the usual problems. You benefit from a virtual consultation that enables you to speak to a qualified doctor, explain and show them your symptoms, and get the right advice, diagnosis, and treatment. Online doctors can prescribe any treatments that you need and refer you to other medical professionals if necessary.
- Several things can cause toenails to fall off, including injury, fungal infections, and psoriasis
- It’s not usually anything serious, and you can take care of it yourself
- People with diabetes have a higher risk of developing a fungal infection in their toenails
- Psoriasis typically affects the skin but can also cause cells to build up on the toes and lead to them falling off
- Toenails usually grow back, and it can take anywhere from a few months to a couple of years
- Toenail regrowth is affected by several factors, including the reason it fell off
- See a doctor if you’re worried about your toenail falling off
- Structure of the nails. Informedhealth.org. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK513133/
- Ramos Pinheiro, R., Dias Domingues, T., Sousa, V., Galhardas, C., Apetato, M. and Lencastre, A. (2019), A comparative study of onychomycosis and traumatic toenail onychodystrophy dermoscopic patterns. J Eur Acad Dermatol Venereol, 33: 786-792. https://doi.org/10.1111/jdv.15358
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- Klaassen, K., Dulak, M., van de Kerkhof, P. and Pasch, M. (2014), The prevalence of onychomycosis in psoriatic patients: a systematic review. J Eur Acad Dermatol Venereol, 28: 533-541. https://doi.org/10.1111/jdv.12239
- Gulcan A, Gulcan E, Oksuz S, Sahin I, Kaya D. Prevalence of toenail onychomycosis in patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus and evaluation of risk factors. Journal of the American Podiatric Medical Association. 2011 Jan-Feb;101(1):49-54. DOI: https://www.doi.org/10.7547/1010049 . PMID: 21242470.
- How Long Does It Take for a Toenail to Grow Back? Healthline. Available from: https://www.healthline.com/health/how-long-does-it-take-for-a-toenail-to-grow-back
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