Nail problems aren’t usually caused by anything serious, but it’s important to know when to seek advice
It’s normal and common for your nails to change over time. They may:
• Become thicker or break more easily (brittle) as you get older
• Become harder, softer or more brittle during pregnancy (they should be healthier within six months of having a baby)
• Change colour, become loose and eventually fall off after an injury
Fingernails that fall off after an injury should grow back within six months. Toenails can take up to 18 months.
What can I do to help with common nail problems?
Trim your nails regularly, you may find it easier to do so after a shower or bath. Don’t cut your nails down the edges and only trim straight across the top to help avoid an ingrown toenail.
Keep your nails clean with a soft nail brush, followed by a hand cream applied to your nails and fingertips. Never try to clean under your nails with any sharp objects.
Cut any injured, loose nails back to where they are still attached, as this helps them to grow back normally. Avoid biting or picking your nails, or the skin around them.
If your hands are often in water or you regularly use cleaning products, you should wear rubber gloves.
When exercising, avoid wearing shoes that pinch your toes and don’t ignore any fungal infections on your skin, such as athlete’s foot.
What causes nail problems?
Most nail problems are caused by:
• Injuries or biting your nails
• Staining your nails (by smoking or applying a lot of nail varnish, for example)
• Not regularly trimming your nails or cutting them at an angle
• Your hands often being in water or cleaning products
Nail problems can sometimes be a symptom of a more serious or long-term condition, such as:
• Nail psoriasis
• Iron-deficiency anaemia
• An underactive or overactive thyroid
• Heart, lung or liver disease
Some medicines can also cause nail problems. Always check the side effects of any medicine you're taking.
My nails have changed shape, what does it mean?
• Spoon-shaped nails that curve inwards (koilonychia) can be a sign of iron-deficiency anaemia
• Small dents or pits in your nails can be a sign of nail psoriasis, eczema or alopecia
• Deep lines or grooves across your fingernails (Beau's lines) may happen when you're ill, but should grow out
• Fingernails curving over rounded fingertips (clubbing) can be a sign of many serious, long-term conditions
When should I see a GP?
If you don’t know why a nail has changed shape, colour or fallen off, you should see a GP.
You should also speak to a GP if the skin around your nails has become sore, red, swollen and warm (paronychia), as it could be a sign of an infection or ingrown toenail.
If necessary, they may be able to refer you to a footcare specialist (podiatrist). You can also pay to see a podiatrist privately if your nails are too tough to cut or you can’t reach them.
Talk to a GP if a fungal nail infection is severe and treatment hasn’t worked, or it’s spread to other nails.