What causes thick toenails and top tips on how to deal with them
As we grow older, it is completely natural to notice toenails becoming thicker, however, when this happens at a young age or when the thickening is particularly apparent this can often be a symptom of a fungal nail infection. Not only can thick toenails be unsightly, they can also be very difficult to trim and can result in pain when wearing certain footwear. When the problem is caused by a fungal nail infection, then the obvious course of action is to treat the infection, however, this is not always therefore, other techniques are needed.
What Causes Toenails to Thicken?
• One of the main causes of toenail thickening is actually as simple as repetitive pressure caused by everyday activities. This happens because the nail strikes against the shoe and results in a separation of the nail from the nail bed.
• As can be expected, major trauma is a common cause. Major trauma in this sense refers to extreme pressure from footwear, stubbing the toe or dropping something heavy things such as a hammer on to the foot.
• Fungal infections will inevitably result in the thickening of the toenail and will also usually result in a thick toenail fungus which can be smelly and painful.
• Age definitely plays a huge role in this problem, and this is primarily down to the way our bodies develop as we get older such as changes in metabolic rate and a reduction in blood flow.
• There are also other medical problems apart from fungal infections that can contribute to this issue, such as; psoriasis, eczema, cardiovascular disease and cancer.
Treating Fungal Infections
If the reason for your thickening toenails is a fungal infection, then you may actually find that this is easier to treat than it would be with other causes. Basically, the idea is to treat the infection and the problem will resolve itself. There are many over the counter treatments on the market that can be very effective, however, it is advisable to consult with your doctor before trying any of these treatments. Your doctor or podiatrist will prescribe you with the best medicine to treat your fungal infection depending on the severity. In the case of mild infections, you can expect to be provided with a topical treatment containing ingredients such as fungasil. These treatments will usually come in the form of a liquid or polish which you will be required to apply directly to the affected area daily. Topical treatments have been proven to be effective but it may take up to a year to see the best results. If the infection is more severe and topical treatments are not having any effect, then you may be prescribed an oral treatment, these aim to fight the infection from the inside out and are much stronger and more effective, however, there can be a higher risk of side effects such as liver damage.
Preventing Fungal Infections
Although fungal infections are common, they are relatively simple to avoid.
• Keep your feet as clean and dry as possible. Don’t encase your feet in tight shoes in hot weather, and try to wear moisture absorbing socks.
• Don’t walk barefooted in public places such as locker rooms and public pools as these environments are quite literally a breeding ground for fungal infections.
• Try to keep your nails short and dry and also avoid picking the skin around your nail.
Thick Toenail Treatment
In order to treat a thickening toenail when the cause is not due to fungal infection, then natural remedies can often be very effective. For example, a combination of tea tree oil and olive oil that is applied gently to the affected area twice a day can help soften the nail so the thickness recedes. As well as using this treatment to soften the nail, it will make it easier to trim and keep clean all of which will go towards eliminating the problem. Another common natural remedy is to soak the feet in vinegar. 3-4 tablespoons of vinegar combined with water will help to break away the thick top layers of the nail. Soaking for 20-25 minutes a day will give the best results.
There are also some medical treatments that can be used to help reduce nail thickness. For example, a doctor may prescribe the use of an acidic gel. These types of gels work by removing the thick top layers of the nail that have built up over time. The high pH of the Gel will also work to prevent any infections occurring.
Trimming Thick Toenails
If you are attempting to cope with toenails that have become hard and thick, then trimming them can seem like an almost impossible task, however, there are some tips that can make the process much easier. As well as keeping toenails trimmed, it will help to eliminate the problem altogether. Thicker toenails are very susceptible to splitting and they will also become painful and irritated when pressure is applied, regular trimming can reduce the irritation and splitting and help to lessen the excess layers on the top of the nails.
• Before beginning to trim your nails, soak your feet in warm soapy water. The longer the better, but you should aim for at least 10 minutes or until the nails feel softer to touch.
• Following the soaking, you need ensure that your toenails are completely dry. They may be quite tender due to the condition, but lightly dabbing them with a soft towel should dry them quickly and painlessly.
• Use a file or an emery board to even up the surface of the nail, you should be able to remove some of the hard top layer using this method. The soaking will make this process a lot easier.
• Make sure you use a trimmer instead of scissors and make small cuts from one corner of the nail to the other. Making small cuts instead of attempting to go straight across will prevent the nail from splitting.
• Do not use cuticle pushers, they will disturb the natural barrier of the nail and increase the likelihood of developing fungal infections.
Preventing Toenail Thickening
As it is with most problems, prevention is always better than cure, and there are many ways that you can avoid the annoyances that come with thick toenails.
• The first point to make in terms of prevention is vigilance. You might not pay that much attention to your toenails, especially in winter when your feet will likely be covered up most of the time, but it is highly important that you start to pay attention. In order to prevent your nails thickening, you should look out for any changes in your skin and nails, e.g. changes in colour and texture. If you begin to notice severe discolouration and pain, then it is likely that you have contracted a fungal nail infection. You should immediately contact your doctor in order to begin treatment as soon as possible.
• Secondly, you should take care of your nails. Pedicures are not just for girls and are not just to make feet look pretty, they can really help in keeping feet and toenails clean and healthy. However, if pedicures really aren’t for you, just aim to keep your nails trim but still above the nail bed to prevent separation and also file them regularly to prevent sharp edges.
• Next, get rid of the old cheap shoes and invest in pairs that are going to take care of your feet. Most foot and toenail problems arise from ill-fitting shoes or inappropriate socks. Make sure your footwear gives your feet room to breathe. For example, avoid pointy shoes with very tight toe space, and also attempt to save the high heels for special occasions only. For men, you should choose a shoe made from breathable material, especially where trainers are concerned. When wearing shoes with laces, keep the laces tight so your foot does not slip around within the shoe, this will minimize the friction between your toenails, socks and shoe and therefore will help in the prevention of nail thickening.
• Finally, if you have previously suffered with this issue or you are worried that you may be heading down that path, then simply ask yourself if there is anything you are currently doing that can aggravate your toenails. For example, do you partake in regular sporting activities? Athletes are among the most common group to experience toenail problems and fungal infections. Ask yourself how long the problem has been apparent, this may enable you to identify the cause which in turn will enable you to identify the correct treatment. Furthermore, you should always consult your doctor or podiatrist, even if you are sure that the problem is mild, you could be suffering with a fungal infection or even a bacterial infection. Infections of this nature will affect more than your feet if left untreated, and the longer it is ignored, the harder it will be to treat.