Why Are My Toenails So Thick and Brittle?
When you have really thick toenails, it can be more than just unsightly. Thick nails can be painful. Additionally, they can be hard to take care of at home. Regular nails can be cleaned and clipped, but when your nails are too thick to properly groom, it can create problems.
Unfortunately, thickened toenails are often the result of an existing medical problem. There are reasons why people get thicker nails. Some are more serious than others when it comes to finding the right treatment option.
The most important thing, though, is to figure out why your nails are so thick, so you can do whatever it takes to get them back to normal. Troublesome toenails can also leave you at a higher risk of getting a bacterial infection or make it easy for your nails to split or crumble.
Instead of feeling like there is no hope for your thick nails, this article will cover what might be causing them. We’ll also tell you how to identify each possible cause, and what you can do to help treat the problem. Finally, we will provide some tips for taking care of your thick nails along the way. Heavy toenails can be a problem, but in most cases, they can be treated.
Table of Contents:
- 1 What Causes Thick Toenails?
- 2 Underlying Health Conditions
- 3 Are Thick Toenails Avoidable?
What Causes Thick Toenails?
There is a myriad of things that can cause your nails to thicken. The more you know about how to recognize each cause, the easier it can be to find a treatment option that works. Let’s take a closer look at some of the underlying causes, and what you can do about them.
Nails Can Thicken with Age
Age can be a strong contributing factor to nails that become thick. This process is called Onychauxis. In fact, most people experience thicker nails when they’re older, even though some other conditions can occur at any age.
There are a few reasons that nails thicken up as we age. The good news is that none of them are very threatening. Nails could become hard due to nothing more than the regular stresses of life. As we get older, our nails begin to slow in their growth. However, that can also cause them to become thicker. This isn’t so much a problem for fingernails, but toenails do seem to catch the brunt of the problem.
There are no real symptoms to worry about if your nails are naturally thickening due to age. You’ll likely notice thickening over time. If you had another underlying condition, you’d be likely to notice a more sudden change in the structure of your nails.
Treatment Options for Aging Nails
If there are no other health conditions affecting your nails, treating them is a matter of keeping them healthy and well-groomed. To take care of thick nails, use the following solutions:
- Keep nails closely trimmed. This will prevent debris from getting caught underneath, which could cause an infection. If your nails are too thick to trim with standard clippers, you may need to get special toenail clippers for thick nails. We’ll go over a few of the best options shortly.
- A good toenail softening cream can make it easier to trim your nails. Simply apply the cream and let it sit overnight, so your nails will be soft enough to clip in the morning.
- Make sure your nails are always as clean as possible.
- Wear shoes that fit, so you don’t cause any additional trauma to the nails.
Trauma or Injury to the Nail
When it comes to trauma, most people think of something that has to happen suddenly. While that’s a possibility, trauma to the nail is also something that can happen over time. For example, if you wear the same ill-fitting shoes each day, your nail could be jammed against the shoe again and again. This is traumatic for it each time, and can eventually cause thickening.
The consistent pressure of something hitting your nails can cause them to separate from the bed. It’s a common problem for athletes. Playing sports can often cause trauma to your nails. However, walking down the street each day may eventually have the same effect.
Of course, sudden injury can also occur, causing instant damage to the nail, and eventual thickening. The symptom to look for is the appearance of the nail bed. It may appear to be slightly separated or lifted. It could also be bruised. Here are some ways that you can heal from a bruised toenail faster.
Treating an Injured Nail
If you have nail trauma that is causing thickening, the best thing to do is make a lifestyle change. If the trauma is a result of repeated pressure over time, making simple changes can create a big difference. These changes include things like:
- Wear different shoes
- Check your feet and nails every day
- Cut back on extreme physical activity if you notice any problems
In some cases, if the nail has separated too far from the nail bed, medical attention may be required. Never attempt to pull on a nail if it looks loose or separated. Instead, contact a podiatrist for treatment.
Toenail Fungus (Onychomycosis)
A common reason for thick nails is toenail fungus. A fungal infection is as unsightly as it can be painful. Unfortunately, they are fairly easy to contract for different reasons. Injury to the nail can lead to a fungal infection, as can moisture getting trapped underneath.
Thick toenails are only one of the common symptoms associated with toenail fungus. Additional symptoms to look for include:
One of the first symptoms of toenail fungus is often a small black dot in the center of the nail. The best thing you can do for a fungal infection is to catch it as early as possible. If you don’t, it can grow and spread quickly.
Getting Rid of Toenail Fungus
Because nail fungus is so common, there are many treatment options to consider. These solutions range from home remedies to medical care. Some of the most common at-home solutions for dealing with fungus include:
Medically, there are over the counter antifungal creams and gels to consider. You can apply these directly to your toes, and the antifungal properties should go to work on getting rid of the fungus and clearing up the symptoms. The best solution you can use is by Purely Northwest.
The Purely Northwest Toenail Fungus System offers three solutions in one convenient package. It includes:
- A foot soak
- An antifungal foot wash
- Nail treatment
The system uses tea tree oil (a powerful antifungal agent) and other natural ingredients in each stage. The ingredients can penetrate the nail, getting underneath it to deal with the fungus directly. It’s a safe way to clear up embarrassing fungal infections relatively quickly.
In some cases, you may need to see your doctor for medical treatment. They can prescribe extra strength topical solutions or oral antifungal medication. These will help to kill the fungus from the inside out.
Ram’s Horn (Onychogryphosis)
Ram’s horn is a condition where the nails not only become thick, but they also curve. This curvature gives them their unique name, as they actually begin to look like the horn of a ram. It can make the nails very difficult to trim. Unfortunately, ignoring the nails is often what causes the problem in the first place.
Other causes of Onychogryphosis include trauma to the nail, peripheral vascular disease, and fungal infection. But again, the most common cause is simply neglect of the nails.
The most obvious symptom of Ram’s Horn is the curvature of the nail as it thickens. Sometimes, it also will become discolored. It may be difficult to differentiate it from toenail fungus at first. But, the way in which the nail grows should be the best indicator.
How to Treat Ram’s Horn
Often, this condition can only be treated through medical attention. The nail may have to be surgically removed. If you have an extremely severe case, your doctor may also need to destroy the nail matrix after removing the toenail itself. If they don’t destroy the nail matrix, it’s likely that your nail would never grow normally again.
It’s important to know the difference between Ram’s Horn and other conditions, like toenail fungus. The treatment options are obviously different. Letting Ram’s Horn go untreated for too long can lead to even bigger issues.
Underlying Health Conditions
There are many health conditions and concerns associated with the thickening of toenails. Some of the most common diseases that may subject you to thick toenails are:
Your toes are usually a fairly good indicator of your overall health. Things like discoloration and thickening could be a sign that your body isn’t getting the proper nutrients it needs. For example, you may have a lack of biotin in your diet. Biotin helps to build strong keratin, which is what your toenails are made of.
Vitamin A, B, and H are also crucial in the overall health of your nails.
To ensure that proper nutrition isn’t a problem, eat a healthy, well-balanced diet as much as possible. Be sure to include adequate amounts of protein and plenty of fruits and vegetables that contain necessary vitamins. Simple dietary changes can make a big difference in the health and appearance of your toenails.
Genetics & Hereditary Issues
If your great-grandfather dealt with thick toenails, it doesn’t necessarily mean you will. However, some of the health conditions listed above can be genetic, so it’s important to keep looking at your feet. Keep symptoms of different health conditions in mind if you start to notice changes in your toenails, or elsewhere.
Sometimes, things like toenail fungus can be easier for people to get if they are more prone to autoimmune disease, or have a weakened immune system. That can make it easy for toenails to become thick and fungus to grow.
Simply put – yes, some people are born with a tendency to have thicker toenails. While a family member having thick nails doesn’t mean you will, genetics can be a factor.
There is no underlying negative disease associated with it in these cases. However, it is still important to take proper care of the nails. That includes keeping them clean, closely trimmed, and always monitored for any other negative symptoms.
Are Thick Toenails Avoidable?
Based on different factors that can cause thick toenails, they aren’t always avoidable. However, taking proper care of your feet can make a difference for a lot of the conditions listed above. By staying proactive about your nails, you can lower your risk of them thickening.
Keep some of the following tips in mind. You can use them to fight back against thick nails. While some of the issues in this article may not be avoidable, using these helpful tips can strengthen the overall health of your nails.
- Wear properly-fitting shoes. Try to avoid wearing high heels that pinch your toes together. If you’re active or an athlete, make sure your toes have enough wiggle room in your shoes to avoid repeated trauma.
- If your feet are prone to sweating, take precautions to get rid of as much moisture as possible. Change your socks twice a day, or wear specialist antifungal socks. Alternate which pair of shoes you wear each day. Air out your feet as much as possible when you’re at home. Take the time to dry your feet and toes after you take a shower. The less moisture that surrounds your toes, the better.
- Practice proper hygiene for your feet. Trim your nails closely, but not short enough to cause trauma. Make sure they are always clean, so no debris or moisture can get trapped underneath.
- If you are prone to things like toenail fungus, avoid areas where it may be more prevalent. This includes places like public pools, locker rooms, etc. You may also want to avoid nail salons. Not only can one small mistake cause trauma to the nail, but if tools aren’t properly disinfected, they can spread an infection.
By taking a few simple precautions each day, you can protect your feet and nails from many different negative conditions, and the symptoms that go along with them. While some things may never be 100% avoidable, using these tips offers a lot of protection.
Tips for Softening Toenails
One of the biggest problems that go along with thick toenails is that they are usually hard to cut and take care of. Unfortunately, if you try to clip your nails with regular clippers and no softening agent, they could crack. This can be painful, and leave you open for infection.
Softening your thick nails is a great way to be able to manage them with ease. Softening creams work by hydrating the nails. This hydration penetrates through thick nails and the surrounding skin. Most of them require several hours to soak in, and some even suggest overnight use.
One of the best toenail softening creams is Miracle of Aloe Toenail Soft. It contains 60% moisturizing aloe to help soften the nails and make them easier to trim. Miracle of Aloe requires you to apply it before bed. It penetrates the nails overnight, making them soft enough to clip the next morning.
There are also plenty of natural ways to soften toenails at home. The easiest solution is to soak your feet in warm water for about ten minutes (longer if they are exceptionally thick). A foot soaker bath is a great way to take care of the health of your feet while softening nails at the same time. A few other at-home softening solutions are:
- White vinegar
- Vicks VapoRub
- Tea tree oil
If you do need to soften your toenails for trimming, it’s important to make sure they don’t become too soft. If they are somewhat pliable, you may not be able to get a clean cut with a pair of nippers. This could result in the nail tearing. Not only is that painful, but again, could put you at risk for infection. Nails should be soft enough to clip easily, but should not bend under the weight of nail nippers.
What Are the Best Nail Clippers for Hard Toenails?
Professional-grade nail trimmers are sometimes needed for toenails that are difficult to clip. When you find a pair of nippers that work, it can help you to keep your nails properly trimmed and healthier.
If you have poor circulation or diabetes (where a lack of blood flow is common), be careful when using trimmers. You may have a reduced sensation in your toes. This makes it easier to accidentally cut yourself with nippers that are extremely sharp.
Not all nail nippers are the same. The pair of clippers that will work best for you should have characteristics that fit your specific needs. Let’s take a look at some of the best nail clippers for hard toenails.
ClipPro-Kohm Toenail Clippers
These ClipPro Toenail Clippers are one of the most popular solutions for trimming thick nails. They feature a five-inch long handle for better leverage, and they are made of surgical-grade stainless steel for extra strength.
The blades of these clippers will never dull, so you can ensure an even cut every time. Plus, they feature safety tip covers, making them easy to take with you wherever you go.
Harperton KlipIt Nail Clipper Kit
These heavy-duty Harperton Klipit Nail Clippers look more like traditional trimmers. However, they feature an ergonomic handle that makes them easy to use and cut through thick nails, even if you don’t have a lot of strength.
Because there are two sets of clippers in this kit, you can make adjustments as needed to fit the specific issues you might be facing with thick nails. No matter which set of clippers you choose take confidence in the sharp blades and easy-grip. These are great clippers for those who might struggle with holding onto things, the elderly, or someone with arthritis.
Mehaz 668 Angled Wide Jaw Toenail Clipper
One of the most important features for nail clippers to have in dealing with thick toenails is a wide jaw. A wide jaw opening allows the clippers to work on the thickest of nails, using minimal cuts. This can prevent cracking and splitting.
The Mehaz 668 Angled Wide Jaw Toenail Clipper not only opens wide but has a long handle that makes it easy to use. It’s angled blades also work with the curvature of your nail, to make cleaner cuts. The longer handles also make the clippers easier to use if you have a hard time reaching your nails.
If your nails are very thick, and you’ve found other clippers aren’t wide enough to cut through them, the Mehaz trimmers are a great option.
Are Tough Toenails Treatable?
Getting rid of thick nails for good depends on what caused them in the first place. If you have a nail fungus, for example, getting rid of the toenail fungus itself will remove the symptoms that go along with it. This is true for many underlying health conditions. Treat the condition first. Thick nails are a symptom and side effect. Once you work on getting rid of the medical issue, the thick toenails should go back to normal.
If you’re simply prone to thick nails, or they have happened with age, you may not be able to do much about getting them back to a normal state.