Having an entire toenail fall off can be unsettling, to say the least. It’s something that makes some people’s skin crawl and isn’t something anyone really wants to go through. Not only is the loss unpleasant and unsightly, but it can be painful, as well. But what causes this to happen? Let’s find out!
So, what does it mean when your toenail falls off? Losing a toenail isn’t that rare. It can be caused by many common problems, including injury and trauma, psoriasis, or (most commonly) a fungal infection. However, in some circumstances, it can pair with other symptoms and indicate more serious health conditions, like diabetes, where seeking a doctor will be required.
Thankfully, a nail falling off is not likely not permanent.
And for most, your new nail will probably be fine, once it’s grown in.
Nevertheless, if this has happened to you, you’re probably a little disturbed, confused, and anxious.
Besides, it’s easy to assume the worse.
But, I’d like to ease your nerves throughout the rest of this article here today.
First, we’ll break down the main causes, but then – we’ll look at what you can do and how to prevent it from ever happening again going forward.
So stick around.
You’ll be pleased you did. Trust me.
Why Do Toenails Fall Off?
Toenails fall off because of three major things: fungal infection, injury, and psoriasis.
There are many reasons why a toenail may fall off.
However, there are three that are the most common, and the likely reason why a majority of nails fall off.
These are fungal infection, injury, and psoriasis.
All three are relatively common, and are usually fairly minor.
You can normally recover from the loss of a toenail because of these issues, and have healthy nails in the future.
Fungal infections are one of the most common nail problems in adults.
The vast majority of people will experience a fungal infection of the toenails at least once in their life, and many will find it a problem that reoccurs on occasion.
These infections are marked by thick, discolored toenails that may be crumbly or brittle.
There may be discharge from beneath the nail, and it may be foul-smelling.
For many people, a fungal infection can be painful when the toenail infected is touched or handled.
This condition, particularly in its milder form, can usually be diagnosed and treated at home.
There are many ways to treat it, including over-the-counter medicated ointments.
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While a less-common symptom, a fungal infection can end with the nail loosening, and finally falling off.
If this has happened to you, it may be worth a trip to the doctor.
They can prescribe the right antifungal creams or oral medications to deal with the problem, as well as give you the information needed to make sure the nail grows back properly.
Another common reason to lose your toenail? Injury.
This can come from either accidental injuries (such as dropping something heavy on your toe) or from overuse (such as in sports or dance).
Injuries that can cause you to lose a toenail are normally characterized by the toenail becoming dark purple or black.
This is because of the formation of a subungual hematoma, when blood collects beneath the nail.
The pressure that this blood puts on your toenail may eventually cause the nail to fall off.
If you have a subungual hematoma, particularly one that takes up the majority of a nail or that is very painful or throbbing, you may want to see a doctor.
Not only can they determine if there are other injuries to treat (such as a broken bone), they can help relieve the pressure from the blood by drilling a hole through your nail with a needle.
This can save your toenail, if it hasn’t fallen off yet.
Lastly, there is psoriasis. If this is the cause of your nail falling off, then you likely already know what it is.
Only 5% of psoriasis sufferers have it happen to their nails only, so most people who lose nails to psoriasis are old hands at managing their condition.
Psoriasis actually leads to the loss of a nail much in the same way injury does: the buildup beneath the nail eventually causes enough pressure that the nail falls off.
But that’s where the similarities between injury and psoriasis end.
In fact, psoriasis tends to have similar symptoms to a fungal infection, including yellow or brown discoloration, thickening of the nails, and a chalk-like buildup under the nails.
Have psoriasis, and aren’t sure if it’s your condition or a fungal infection?
Hit up your doctor!
There are treatments that can help after your nail falls off, or prevent it from falling off altogether.
Should I Be Worried If My Toenail Falls Off?
Probably not. However, you should try to find out why it came off, and keep an eye out for infections or other problems. People with diabetes should tell their doctors, and consider going in for an appointment.
Having a toenail fall off can be horrifying for many people.
It’s something that can be uncomfortable, or even a little gross to see, much less experience.
If the sight made you a little sick or nervous, you’re not alone!
But, in all likelihood, you have nothing to worry about.
Losing a toenail is often not a sign of bad, life-changing medical problems, and for almost everyone, it isn’t permanent.
It’s a temporary inconvenience that should be completely remedied by the time your nail grows back.
What do you do if this happens?
First, try to determine why your toenail came off.
It’s likely one of the three reasons we listed above: a fungal infection, injury, or psoriasis.
Knowing why your nail came off is important in knowing what to do next, and whether you should worry.
Injury and infection are the most likely reason, if you don’t already have psoriasis.
You can usually tell if it was injury or infection by the way your nail looked before it fell off.
Had it gone black? Injury.
Discolored and thick? Infection.
From there, keep an eye on where the toenail used to be.
For any heavy bleeding or pain, see a doctor right away. Other than that, make sure that the site doesn’t get infected.
Keep it clean and dry.
Signs of infection include discharge, swelling, heat around the area, redness, as well as tenderness at the area.
If you notice these things, see a doctor.
People with diabetes should take the loss of a nail more seriously than others, as it can change the amount of blood flow to your feet.
If you’ve lost a nail, call your doctor.
They can help you determine if you should come in immediately, or if it’s just something to check up on at your next appointment.
What To Do If Your Toenails Fall Off
Do not remove parts of the toenail that remain attached. If the toenail that has fallen off is still connected to toenail that hasn’t, you or a doctor can clip it off carefully with toenail clippers. Smooth any jagged or sharp edges with a file. Clean your toe carefully and gently, before applying an antibiotic cream or ointment. Cover with a bandage. If bleeding does not subside, or there is a great deal of pain, seek treatment.
The first thing you should do if your toenail has fallen off? Remain calm!
There may be a bit of blood, and it can be a bit disturbing to see, for some people.
But it’s likely that nothing very bad has happened, and it’s easily treated.
Don’t be tempted to remove any remaining toenail.
This can cause more damage than the toenail falling off initially.
However, if the lost toenail is still attached to healthy toenail, feel free to carefully clip it.
If you’re not comfortable doing this, you can ask your doctor.
Once the nail is completely detached, you should smooth out any jagged edges from the nail with a file.
This will keep it from being caught when wearing shoes or socks, and will cut down on potential pain that comes with it.
Like any other minor injury, you’ll want to clean your toe after the nail comes off.
Use water that is comfortably warm, soap, and a clean cloth.
our skin is likely very sensitive at the moment.
Afterward, gently pat dry.
Then apply an antibiotic ointment, such as Neosporin.
Cover with a bandage, and be sure that it covers the entire area that the nail is missing from.
Experiencing a lot of pain, or can’t get the bleeding to stop? Head to a doctor!
How To Stop Toenails From Falling Off In the Future
Treat a fungal infection as soon as you realize you have one. Take a break from sports or dance that can be damaging to toes, or find ways to protect them. Be mindful about your toes, to prevent injury. Ask your doctor about treatments for psoriasis of the nails. This may include phototherapy or topical steroids.
Don’t want to lose another toenail in the future? Understandable!
Thankfully, there are ways that you can get ahead of the problem before it rears its ugly head.
Before making these plans, you should know what caused your toenail to fall off in the first place.
It makes it easier to determine what the best course of action is.
If it was a nail fungus, good news! Prevention and treatment is easier than ever.
If you’re worried about another toenail falling off because of a fungal infection, you’ll find that it’s relatively easy to prevent.
All that you need to do is treat the infection early, as soon as you know that you have one.
This can be done with topical ointments that you can get over the counter, or by using oral medication given by your doctor.
For a stubborn infection, you may need both.
By treating quickly, you’ll be less likely to lose another toenail.
Otherwise, be sure to keep up with good hygiene practices – washing regularly, not wearing the same old pair of socks multiple times in a row, covering any toenail wounds with a bandaid etc.
Always hard, if not impossible to do to some extent.
But iIf you do ballet or sports that are hard on your toes, this is likely to be a cause of toenail loss.
There are two options to prevent the loss of another nail: either take a break from the activity or find a way to mitigate the damage that it can cause.
Ballet in particular is hard on toenails.
There are options to help while allowing you to participate, however!
These include toe wraps, pads, and protectors.
Was your injury the good ol’ fashioned bumped-into-something or dropped-something kind?
You’re not alone!
Sometimes a little clumsiness is all it takes.
If that’s the case, simply being mindful of your toes is all you need to avoid a repeat.
Try not to hold heavy things directly over your toes, and stay away from things you might stub your toes on.
Wearing closed-toe shoes can help prevent another accident.
If you have psoriasis, you likely have a doctor already.
They can give you the best options for preventing another toenail loss.
These can include phototherapy, where you’re exposed to light, or topical steroids.
It’s best to leave this treatment to the professionals!
When To See A Doctor
See a doctor if you have a lot of pain, if you can’t stop the bleeding, or if the toenail is ripped off. For injuries, if the black/purple discoloration takes up more than a quarter of the nail, see a doctor. If you have a fungal infection that you cannot get to go away, psoriasis, or diabetes, you should consult your doctor about going forward with treatment. Lastly, if you see any signs of infection, such as discharge, redness, tenderness, or heat, see your doctor.
Most of the time, you can deal with this on your own. But there are some times when you need to consult a doctor.
First, if you’re experiencing a lot of pain, or you can’t stop any bleeding from the damaged nail.
These are both bad signs, and you need to get to the doctor.
It can mean you’ve injured yourself.
If you’re dealing with the loss of a toenail because of a previous injury, this can be even more concerning, since you might have other problems you might not have noticed, like a broken bone.
Likewise, if the nail is ripped off, rather than falls off, you should get to a doctor ASAP.
Bring the nail with you.
They may be able to reattach it, and deal with any of the trauma that was caused.
Having a nail ripped off is not the same as having a nail fall off!
If you haven’t lost the nail yet, but notice a black or purple spot on your toenail, take note of it.
If it takes up more than a quarter (or ¼) of your nail, then you need to see a doctor.
They may be able to relieve some of the pressure and save your nail.
Fungal infections are usually no big deal. But, if you cannot get them to go away with over-the-counter remedies, you’ll probably need a doctor to help you.
They can prescribe more powerful medications, that should be able to take out the fungus better than topical ointments. For severe cases, you may need both.
Psoriasis sufferers and people with diabetes should already have a primary care physician.
They should be told of the problem as soon as possible and may request to see you.
From there, they can come up with a treatment plan.
For everyone, any sign of infection should warrant a trip to a doctor.
This includes redness of the area, swelling, discharge, a foul odor, heat (or a fever), and tenderness.
See a doctor for these symptoms.
They may prescribe antibiotics, as well as topical treatments.
Hey – I’m Jemma – a certified nail technician and manicurist with over fifteen years of hands-on industry experience. I created AlmondNails.com to share all that I have learned about the nail industry – from the different types of manicures available, suggestions for wear, recommendations for keeping nails strong and healthy, all the way through to providing the best nail salon tips and practices.