According to the National Institutes of Health, nail changes are very common as we age. Our nails are a good way to judge our overall health, most of the time. So, common nail changes when we get older can be a great way to find early symptoms of other underlying conditions.
Knowing how nails change and become different, however, is important. There are many common nail changes that have no cause for concern. Many of them are considered to be normal. The characteristics of our toenails simply age with the rest of our bodies, adapting to older age.
Other factors can contribute to nail changes. This includes things like dietary factors, long-term exposure to ultraviolet light, or nutritional deficiencies. While they all go hand-in-hand with the aging process, some things can be treated, while others are a part of getting older. This can make cutting your toenails difficult, which is why you need a good pair of clippers.
Throughout this article, we’ll discuss several different things that might happen to your toenails. Some people experience only a few of these, while some may experience all or none. However, they are important characteristics to keep in mind. If you notice these alterations to your toenails as you age, you’ll be better prepared to notice any type of additional health concern that may be causing them.
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How Toenails Change During the Aging Process
If there are no underlying health conditions, our toenails can change in several different ways as we get older. The most common changes include:
- How quickly they grow
- How thick they become
- The overall texture of the nail
- The shape of the nail
Fingernails and toenails change with age. Keep in mind that the changes discussed here will focus mostly on toenails.
It’s easy to joke about slowing down with age. However, some features of the body actually do slow down the older we get. A perfect example of this is hair growth. You may notice thinning hair, or that you need fewer cuts as you get older. Toenail (and fingernail) growth also slows fairly significantly.
Toenails already grow slower than fingernails, to begin with. On average, they grow about 1.6mm per month. Of course, everyone is different and many factors come into play with growth. However, the rate of growth begins to slow as early as age 25.
From that point, your toenails’ rate of growth will slow by about 0.5% per year. It may not seem significant, and many people don’t even notice that they’re clipping their nails less often. It’s more common to notice with fingernails.
If you’re not overly concerned about how quickly (or slowly) your nails are growing, a slower rate is typically something that’s easy to ignore. It can even be beneficial for those who have a difficult time clipping their nails regularly.
Most people’s nails become thicker with age. Keeping your toenails closely trimmed, or even using a pair of heavy duty toenail clippers can help to keep them clean and free of infection. However, another cause for thick nails is toenail fungus. Toenail fungus can happen to anyone, but it is more common among older individuals.
A common side effect of toenail fungus is thick, hard nails. Unfortunately, these symptoms can make it hard to cut the nails properly. If your nails aren’t trimmed closely, it offers more room for the fungus to grow. If you’re not sure if you might have toenail fungus, look for some of the other symptoms associated with the conditions, like:
- Foul odor
- Crumbling, splitting nails
- Ridges in the nail
Fortunately, there some good treatment options for toenail fungus. From topical antifungal solutions provided by your doctor to home remedies, you don’t have to live with toenail fungus forever. The sooner it’s caught, the easier it will be to treat.
Being aware of the overall texture of your nails is important. There are slight changes that are likely to occur. The most common issue people face as they age is that the nails become more brittle. This is due to the slowing of sebum getting to the nails. The toenails can be easier to break and split, so it’s crucial to take proper care of them.
There are some health problems that can also contribute to the texture of the nail as you age. These include things like:
- Hormonal changes
- Hardened arteries
If you notice any extreme changes to the texture of your toenails, it’s a good idea to see a doctor. Your nails shouldn’t have thick ridges or significant changes that weren’t noticeable before.
The best thing you can do for nails that are becoming brittle is to take proper care of them. Try some of the following solutions to fight back against crumbling nails:
- Use a nail moisturizer
- Practice proper hygiene
- Use a nail strengthening agent
- Keep your toenails clipped regularly
As with the texture and thickness of nails, the contour of your toenails may change with age. However, extreme changes can be a sign of something more serious.
Your nails may become more curved naturally. If they become extremely curved, it could be a sign of clubbing. This is often associated with cardiovascular issues or even digestive issues. If you notice any significant changes in the overall shape of your nail, you should see a podiatrist.
Nails may naturally discolor over time. This is different from discoloration caused by a problem like a toenail fungus. With age, nails can turn a yellowish tint, or may even turn slightly opaque. There are a few color changes to look for that could be more serious.
If you experience dark-colored ridges in your toenails, it could be a sign of melanoma (skin cancer). Typically, this discoloration will only appear on one nail. Discoloration of all or most of your toenails may be a sign of a fungal infection.
How to Take Proper Care of Toenails When We Get Older
Unfortunately, the elderly can face many challenges when it comes to the general upkeep of their feet and toenails. It can become difficult to bend over, strength and grip are weakened, etc. There are also more serious conditions and diseases that can become more prevalent.
There are several basic foot care steps you can take at any age. Taking proper care of your feet when you’re younger will not only make it easier to notice anything strange with your toenails later, but it might help to prevent some of the dangerous conditions.
- Inspect your feet regularly. You should be able to detect any abnormalities faster if you’re aware of what your feet look like on a daily basis. Problems with circulation can occur as you age. If you have trouble feeling your feet, ask for assistance in inspecting them. Or, try a circulation booster machine to increase blood flow.
- Always keep your feet dry. Too much moisture can lead to issues like toenail fungus. Wear shoes that aren’t too tight, and always wear clean, dry antifungal socks.
- Cut toenails regularly. You should cut them close enough to avoid debris getting trapped underneath. However, don’t clip them too close, or you could damage your skin.
- While feet shouldn’t be wet, they should be moisturized. Using a moisturizing agent regularly can help to prevent cracking of the feet. It can also help to keep toenails from splitting and crumbling.
Normal Nail Changes Happen Gradually
Changes in toenails are common as you age. The changes you should experience are relatively subtle. So subtle, in fact, that some people may not notice them at all. However, if you notice drastic or sudden changes, it could be something else.
If you feel as though you may have an underlying health condition, the toenails can be a great detector. By paying attention to your feet regularly, it will be easier to notice any strange symptoms. Those who deal with things like diabetes or poor foot circulation may have a difficult time feeling the effects of these changes right away. It’s important that older people with these conditions pay even closer attention to their feet.
It never hurts to talk to a podiatrist if you’re concerned about what health conditions might be causing changes to your toenails. For elderly patients, Medicare can help to cover costs of foot-related problems. Sometimes, it even helps to cover foot maintenance. Also, consider using Superfeet Green Insoles as they will help to cushion your feet and prevent foot pain.