What Causes Cracked or Split Toenails?
The health of your nails is a great indicator of your health. It’s true that problems with your toenails can indicate something else may be going on within the body. However, we don’t pay as much attention to toenails as we should, until there’s a problem.
There are different reasons for toenails to look less than pristine. However, when nails start to crack or split, it usually indicates something needs to change.
Cracking, splitting nails, also known as onychoschizia, can be painful and embarrassing. It can also put you at risk for even bigger concerns, like infection.
We’ll take a look at the main reasons for cracking nails. Sometimes, remedying the problem is as easy as making some changes. In other instances, treatment may be necessary. No matter what may be causing your splitting nails, though, it’s important to restore them to full health.
Table of Contents:
Trauma to the Nail
Toenails are designed to be tough. They protect the toes from daily wear and tear, infection, and more. However, they are not immune to experiencing trauma. Trauma to the toenail doesn’t have to happen all at once. Yes, it can occur if you drop something heavy on the nail and split it open. However, you’re more likely to experience nail trauma over time.
If you’re an athlete or runner, or have shoes that don’t fit properly, it can create eventual splitting. However, you don’t have to be extremely active for this to happen. Even just standard daily walking can cause the same type of hitting against the inside of a shoe.
As your nail hits the inside of your shoe repeatedly, it can create problems. This is minor trauma each time. Eventually, it can cause the nail to crack. This is also a common way in which people get toenail fungus.
It’s important to be careful when it comes to your toenails. We can’t always avoid accidents from happening. But, if you feel as though your nail is being traumatized each day by your shoes, be sure to give them a break. Switch out your shoes every other day, and give your feet time to breathe when you’re at home.
A fungal infection of the toenail comes with many unsightly symptoms. Some of these symptoms include:
- Foul odor
- Hard and brittle nails
- Debris underneath the nail
It can also cause splitting and cracking of the toenail. A toenail fungus occurs when moisture gets trapped underneath the nail bed. Fungus is at its strongest in warm, moist environments. So, a toenail that is typically in the confines of a sock or shoe is a perfect place for it to thrive. That’s one of the reasons why you should consider wearing specialist antifungal socks.
If not properly treated, the fungus can spread and grow so much, that it can actually cause the nail to be lifted from the nail bed. When there is too much pressure on the arch of the nail, it may split. In some cases, the edges of your nail can even pull the surrounding skin.
Nail fungus will not go away on its own. In fact, it will actually get worse if left untreated, and can create a myriad of other health problems. The best thing to do is to pay attention to early symptoms. One of the earliest signs of toenail fungus is a small black dot in the middle of the nail. The sooner you start treatment, the less likely it is that the nail will split.
The good news is that there are some good treatment options for getting rid of toenail fungus. In severe cases, you may need to get a prescription antifungal solution from your doctor. These can usually be taken orally, or used topically.
Exposure to Too Much or Too Little Moisture
As stated above, moisture can be a big problem for toenails. If it gets trapped underneath the nail, a fungus can grow. But, moisture plays another factor when it comes to nails cracking or splitting.
Being exposed to too much water is one of the main reasons that nails split. Water can soften the nails, but repeated exposure can make them weak. Leaving your nails in water for too long degrades the arch of the nail, where it’s easiest to split open. As the nails start to degrade, this arch loses support, and can crack.
People who might experience cracking nails due to too much moisture include:
- Boaters or fishers
- Frequent bathers and people who shower for extended periods
It’s impossible to stay away from water altogether. But, it’s important to be aware of how much time your nails actually spend submerged.
Additionally, you don’t want your nails to dry out. This can easily happen if you live in an area with dry air, or bitter cold. Keeping your nails moisturized properly is different from submerging them in water regularly.
To keep your toenails properly moisturized, massage a bit of olive oil onto them with a cotton swab. With a bit of extra care and attention to your toenails, you can make sure they aren’t experiencing too much or too little moisture.
An Unhealthy Diet
An unhealthy lifestyle can lead to many different health concerns. Issues with your toenails are no different. Again, toenails can be a great indicator of your overall health. So, if your body isn’t receiving the right nutrients through food or supplements, it can start to show through your toenails. For example, your likely to have circulatory problems that affect the toenails with diabetes.
Iron deficiency is one of the most common issues associated with nail problems. If your nails become brittle and start to crack, it could be the result of a lack of essential nutrients. If you’re not sure how to get more nutrients into your diet, talk with your doctor about a nutrition plan that’s easy to follow. Additionally, you can supplement your diet with necessary vitamins.
What Can I Do to Repair a Split Nail?
If your toenail has started to crack, you may be able to fix it at home. If it’s experienced sudden trauma and the nail has split wide open, see a doctor or podiatrist. The nail may have to be removed, and you don’t want to risk infection.
However, if the nail has just started to split, you can try one of the following remedies. Before trying any type of repair to the nail, make sure the entire area is clean and completely dry. You don’t want to risk moisture getting trapped underneath a split nail.
- Try a nail repair kit: Nail repair kits can be found at just about any pharmacy. They typically contain some type of acrylic polish that you can apply directly to the nail. This helps to hold it together. To cover up the crack, you can even paint over toenails with an antifungal nail polish after the acrylic solution is applied. Some people also use clear nail polish in place of purchasing a kit, to hold the nail together.
- Use a mending material: Cutting off a small piece of a teabag or coffee filter can work to mend the gap created in your nail. You can apply this material over the crack, and seal it with acrylic polish, or even an adhesive. The material should be kept in place until the nail grows back, long enough to be trimmed. To cover it up, you can apply any type of cosmetic nail polish over it.
- Apply super glue: Though it may not be your first idea, super glue is actually a viable option when it comes to repairing a cracked nail. Apply a small amount to the crack, and it will seal it in a matter of minutes. Though the clear glue won’t be noticeable, you can cover it with polish if you’d like. Obviously, this isn’t a good option if you have an open wound or fungal infection, for example.
Monitoring the Health of Your Toenails
In many cases, toenails that crack or split can be avoided. They are often caused by underlying health problems, or lifestyle choices that can be changed. The best thing you can do is pay attention to the health of your toenails each day. Most problems can be caught before they become too severe, and treatment is much easier when issues are seen early on.
If your splitting toenail becomes exceedingly painful, or looks infected, you should see a doctor. In some cases, the nail may have to be removed. Or, your doctor may prescribe an antifungal or antibacterial medication to fight off infection.
Now that you know what causes cracked or split toenails, do what you can to avoid these common issues, and keep your nails healthy.