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Brittle Toenail Causes

Brittle Toenail Causes

Human nails and skin are often considered as the indicators of general health. The causes of brittle toenails range from dryness, nutritional deficiency to fungal infection. The following write-up provides information on some of the most common causes of weak toenails.
Chandramita Bora
Last Updated: Mar 20, 2018
Fingernails and toenails are made up of a type of scleroprotein called keratin. Human nails comprise several parts namely matrix, eponychium, paronychium, hyponychium, nail plate, nail bed, lunula, nail fold, free edges and nail groove.
Out of them, matrix is the only living part of a human nail, and the visible part of this matrix at the base of the nail plate is known as the lunula. The hard part or surface of the nail is the 'nail plate', while tissues that lie beneath the nail plate are called the 'nail bed'.
Both the nail bed and nail plate are the areas that are mostly affected by common nail problems like a thick nail, brittle nail, clubbed toenail, opaque nail, appearance of Mees' lines, and white spots, yellowing of nail and changes in nail color.

Out of all the toenail problems, one that is most frequently encountered is a brittle toenail. The common symptoms are breakage and peeling at the tip of the nail. Discoloration can also occur in certain instances.
Nail Dryness

Many of us fail to understand the fact that like our skin, nails can also dry out, which causes them to break or tear easily. It makes them more vulnerable to toenail infections as well. One important reason behind dry toenails is the lack of moisture due to the reduced supply of oil or sebum to the nails. As a result, the toenails become brittle and are easily breakable. This problem is generally faced by elderly people. On the other hand, submerging the nails in water for long periods can cause brittle nails. This is because, the nails expand on coming in contact with water, and then contract when they dry out. This in turn weakens them and makes them brittle.
Other causes of nail dryness include:
  • Excessive indoor heat
  • Overuse of nail polish remover
  • Exposure to harsh chemicals found in some detergents and soaps

Nutritional Deficiency

Problems with both nails and the hair can be associated with nutritional deficiency or malnutrition. For healthy nails, we require an adequate amount of proteins, calcium, vitamin B, vitamin C, and folic acid. The most important B vitamins for the nails are Vitamin B5 or pantothenic acid and biotin. A deficiency of these essential vitamins can weaken the toenails and make them prone to breakage.
Fungal Infection

Brittleness of the nails is accompanied by changes in the color in case of toenail fungus. Fungal infection can cause the nails to become thick, excessively brittle, and discolored too. The nails can also become yellow or brown, and their texture as well as shape may undergo changes, as the fungus can digest keratin of the nails. If the fungus affects the nail bed, it can result in nail bed separation, where the nail plate gets detached from the nail bed.
Other Causes

As mentioned above, some underlying health conditions can manifest themselves into brittle toenails in children as well as adults. The nails are the extremities of the body, and hence, they indicate the condition of blood circulation or circulatory system.
  • Brittle nails can be a sign of poor oxygen supply, which can stem from a respiratory problem like asthma.
  • Another condition that can mimic the symptoms of fungal infection of the toenail is psoriasis. Psoriasis can lead not only to brittle nails, but can also cause very thick and discolored nails which can easily break off.
  • Occasionally, brittle nails can also be a sign of hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism. Hyperthyroidism refers to an overactive thyroid gland that results in over production of the thyroid hormone, while hypothyroidism is the reverse condition, i.e. it refers to an under production of the thyroid hormone. Both these conditions can cause the nails to split from the nail bed.
  • Some other conditions that can cause brittleness of toenails are eczema, dehydration and alopecia areata.
Maintaining proper hygiene and nail care can also help to prevent the recurrences of nail problems like fungal infection. Even simple home remedies like tea tree oil, oregano and apple cider vinegar can prove beneficial in curing fungal toenail infection. However, consulting a physician is very important to find out what exactly is causing brittle and crumbling toenails, in your case, so that it can be treated and prevented in the future.