Thick Toenails: Causes and Effective Home Remedies

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Thick Toenails: Causes and Effective Home Remedies

Thick nails can be caused by a number of reasons including fungal infections (Onychomycosis), aging, injury, psoriasis or infections. Usually, having thickened nails is more a cause for embarrassment than a sign of a serious medical condition. However, thick toenails as well as fingernails can be painful, cause the nail to become brittle and crumble. In some cases, thick nails can become yellow, and it can also be difficult and painful to trim thick toenails.


If you notice that your nails are becoming thicker, discolored and break easily, you can use some home remedies to treat them. If the thickening is caused by toenail fungus, the nail may turn a yellow or brown color before it begins to thicken. You also need to be aware that if you don’t treat your thick nails, the condition can spread to other nails.

The same reasons that make toenails thick and unsightly can also cause thick fingernails.

In this article, I’m going to look at the various reasons why many people have thick nails and what are the best ways to get rid of them. I am also going to explain you how to prevent thick nails and how to trim them properly.

Causes of Thick Toenails (and Fingernails)

Psoriasis

Thick toenails could be a sign that you have psoriasis of the nails. Although this condition is usually associated with red scaly patches on the skin, psoriasis can also affect toenails and fingernails. The Mayo Clinic says that nail psoriasis can also cause the toenails to become loose and separate from the nail bed.1

Dr. Jennifer Robinson on WebMD says that the toenails or fingernails with psoriasis can also become discolored and develop ridges on them. She recommends that the best way to prevent nail psoriasis is to practice good nail care habits.2

Fungal Infection

If you notice that one or more of your toenails are thick, discolored, brittle, and crumbling it could be a sign that a fungal infection is causing thickened toenails. In fact, nail fungal infections (the medical name is onychomycosis) are one of the most common reasons for thick toenails.

Podiatrist, Dr. Kyoung Min Han says that toenail fungal infections are more common than fingernail fungus and affects around 10% of all adults in Western countries.3

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The American Academy of Family Physicians says that nail fungal infections often grow in warm humid conditions, for example, inside sweaty footwear or walking barefooted in locker rooms.4 The fungus is also contagious, and Dr. Han says that sharing inadequately sanitized nail clippers and filers can spread nail fungus.5

Toenail fungus infections are usually caused by the tinea fungus. This can grow on your skin, hair, or nails and is the same fungus that causes “athlete’s foot.”6

You can prevent nail fungus developing in your toenails by not walking barefoot in public areas and keeping the inside of your footwear dry. You can also use a range of home remedies for toenails fungus which I’ll mention later in the article.

Injury

Thick brittle nails can also be the result of major injury or nail trauma. However, even small and repeated injuries to toenails can also cause them to thicken. Dr. Han says that thick toenails caused by injury may be mistaken for fungal infections.7

Thick toenails caused by repetitive injuries (or nail pressure) can affect sports people, especially runners and soccer players and people who have ill-fitting shoes.8

In these cases, you may notice that the nail on the big toe is thicker because it usually gets injured more often.

Aging

As you age you may notice that your toenails become thickened. The older we get the slower our body renews itself and this affects the nails. Leading expert in nail disorders, Dr. Richard K. Scher says that people who are in the older age group have nails that get increasingly thicker.9 According to Medline Plus, it’s generally the toenails that can become thick and hard, not the fingernails.10

Although fungal infections affect more people over 60, thick toenails aren’t always the cause of a fungal infection but just natural part of the aging process.

Dr. Scher says that there is no medication or treatment to get rid of the ridges and lines that are associated with thicker nails. However, he recommends that some light buffing can help and also moisturizing the nail can prevent brittleness.9

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Paronychia

A thick toenail or fingernail which has redness and swelling around the nail could be a symptom of paronychia. This refers to an infection of the skin around the nail. Chronic paronychia can result in thickening of the toenail or fingernail and discoloration. You may also notice that layers of your nails start peeling.

According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, chronic paronychia can be the result of frequent dishwashing, finger sucking, and trimming the cuticles too much. The condition can also be complicated by bacterial or fungal infections.11 Some of the most common types of jobs that can cause chronic paronychia are cooks, dishwashers, bartenders, cleaners, fishmongers, nurses, or laundry workers.

Yellow Nail Syndrome

Yellow nail syndrome is a rare condition that causes thickening and discoloration of toenails and fingernails. The National Organization for Rare Disorders (NORD) reports that yellow nail syndrome causes nails to become thickened, yellow, and excessively curved and can affect both toenails and fingernails.12

People with yellow nail syndrome often have swelling in the arms and legs as well as respiratory problems.

According to NORD, doctors don’t know why yellow nail syndrome exists, and that in some cases it appears to be genetic.

Natural Treatments for Thick Nails

There are many effective home remedies for thick toenails. It is good to remember that any remedy for thickened toenails will take time because you have to wait for the nail to grow to see the results.

For Toe Nail Fungus

Tea tree oil can help get rid of nail fungus that causes thickened toenails and fingernails. Research into the antifungal properties of tea tree oil shows that it can inhibit and kill off fungus infections.13

One study into using tea tree oil on nail fungal infections showed that 100% tea tree oil applied topically to nail fungus was an effective treatment. In fact, it was just as effective as clotrimazole, which is a popular drug for nail fungal infections.14

To use tea tree oil to naturally treat nail fungus infections, the Mayo Clinic recommends trimming away any excess and damaged nail. This helps the antifungal treatment to penetrate deeper into the nail bed.15

You should apply tea tree oil 2 times a day by putting a few drops of tea tree oil on a cotton swab and apply to the affected nail to kill the fungal infection.16

One person who successfully treated nail fungal infection with 100% tea tree oil used a nail file to thin the nail and then some moisturizing lotion to soften the nail. Within a couple of months, the thickness of his toenail was back to normal.17

Using tea tree oil for nail fungus usually takes at least 2 months to show some results while the old nail grows out. But don’t worry, this is the same amount of time that it takes “traditional” antifungal treatments for nail fungus to work, however, you avoid the unpleasant side effects antifungal drugs.

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You can also use other natural ingredients to treat nail fungus, and you can find more about them in my article – Natural Cures for Toenail Fungus.

Psoriasis

Some home remedies can help to relieve the symptoms of nail psoriasis if that is the cause of your thickened toenails. Dr. Jennifer Robinson on WebMD says that the same treatments for skin psoriasis can also treat psoriasis of the nails.18 However, even with medication; nail psoriasis can be difficult to manage.

Some studies have shown that fish oil can be an effective natural remedy for psoriasis. Although no studies have been carried out into using fish oil to treat nail psoriasis, one study has shown that omega-3 supplements can help psoriasis treatments to be more effective.19

The National Psoriasis Foundation says that around one-third of people with nail psoriasis also have nail fungal infections. 20 So, applying tea tree oil can help to reduce the appearance of thick nails if you also have a fungal infection.

If you suffer from severe itching, you could try using apple cider vinegar (ACV). To get relief from itching in your toenails or fingernails, you can dilute equal parts of ACV with water and dip your nails in for a few minutes. This may not help to reduce the thickness of your nails, but it can provide relief and stop infections from occurring.

The Mayo Clinic website also recommends avoiding psoriasis triggers, like stress, injuries to the skin and nails, and overexposure to the sun. The National Psoriasis Foundation also stresses that it’s important to keep nails clipped short and buffed.21

Also please read this article if you want to know how to fight psoriasis naturally with Vitamin D.

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How to Prevent Thick Nails

In order to avoid thick toenails and fingernails, it’s important to know how to prevent conditions that cause nails to thicken.

To avoid fungal infections in your toenails, the Mayo Clinic advises keeping your feet and footwear dry. It is also helpful to wear socks that absorb sweat. When it comes to nail care, they advise trimming nails straight and to file down thickened areas of the toenail or fingernail.22

If you enjoy playing sports regularly, it is recommended to avoid toenail injuries by always wearing appropriate footwear which is laced up properly and which aren’t too loose or too tight. Also, avoid walking barefoot in locker rooms and other public areas.

If you have chronic paronychia from your job, the Indian Journal of Dermatology says that you can prevent thickened nails by always wearing protective gloves, keeping hands as dry as possible, and moisturizing your hands and feet after washing. Make sure that your footwear properly fits to avoid damaging your toenails.23 Also, make sure that the gloves don’t become a source of fungal infections by making sure that they are always dry inside and you are the only one who uses them.

To avoid catching nail fungal and bacterial infections from unclean equipment, make sure that the nail salon you visit has high standards of hygiene. Remember, that nail polish and artificial nails can trap moisture and cause nail fungal infections to get worse.22

How to Trim Thick Nails

Depending on the thickness of the nails, it can be a challenge to trim thick toenails and fingernails. First of all, it may be important to soften thick nails before cutting and it is best to use nail nippers. Podiatric, Dr. Gregg Congdon recommends to do the following to trim thickened nails:23

  • Soften thick nails by soaking them in warm soapy water for 10 minutes.
  • Thoroughly dry your toenails.
  • Starting at one corner, trim the nails straight across. It is best to use smaller cuts to prevent the nail splitting.

Read these related articles:
1. Simple and Effective Natural Cures for Toenail Fungus
2. Health Warnings Your Fingernails May Be Sending
3. Home Remedies to Get Rid Of Ingrown Toenails
4. Yellow Toenails and Fingernails – Causes and Effective Treatments
5. Black Toenail: Causes, Prevention, and Effective Treatments

Resources:
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