Why Toenails Thicken With Age

Thick Toenails

Trimming, Treatment, & Causes

Thick-Toe-NailsOur toenails thicken and harden naturally as we grow older, but this can occur at any age. When toenail thickening occurs in younger people it is most commonly due to infection or injury. If the thickening is caused by toenail fungus, the nail may turn a yellow or brown color before it begins to thicken. Fungal infections often have a foul odor, and may cause fluid to collect under the nail

While major trauma to the nail is an obvious cause of thickening, it is more often the result of repetitive pressure on the nail during everyday activities. The continual striking of the nail against the shoe causes it to separate from the nail bed.

Certainly we expect to see this in long-distance runners or soccer players, but ordinary walkers are just as susceptible. The likelihood of this occurring is multiplied when mileage is increased, sneakers are too short, or walking routes with steep inclines alter the biomechanics of everyday motion. Thickened toenails can be painful and difficult to cut, and they can increase one’s susceptibility to infection.

What Causes Toenails to Thicken? – Any alteration to the nail plate, nail bed, or root of the nail can result in thickening. This damage may be temporary or permanent, depending on the cause.

•  We can add thickened toenails to the list of changes that occur with age. While it may be
    simply the accumulation of trauma over time, other factors such as metabolic change
    and the reduction of blood flow also play a role.
•  As previously mentioned, fungal infections are a major cause of thickening toenails, but
    bacterial infections, which often accompany ingrown toenails, may have the same effect.
•  Trauma, whether caused by he dropping of a hammer on the toe or by the imperceptible
    pressure of a shoe, can result in permanent thickening of the nail.
•  Systemic diseases such as psoriasis, eczema, rheumatoid arthritis, cardiovascular
   disease, and cancer, to name a few, may affect the toenails.

Is There Hope for Thickened Toenails? – Absolutely! Careful filing and trimming with a nail file or emery board can reduce the thickness of a toenail. If you are unsure how to go about grooming yourself, you should talk with your podiatrist or doctor about specific techniques. Your doctor will be able to show you the proper way to groom your nails to reduce their thickness and prevent them from re-thickening.

Treatment of thickened toenails depends on the cause of the problem. If the thickening is due to a fungal infection, topical or oral anti-fungal medicines may be prescribed. Lasers designed specifically for eradicating fungi have also recently become available.

If the thickening is due to injury or age, your doctor may first employ conservative treatments, such as reducing the size of the nail plate. In cases where the thickened nail is chronically painful, removal of the nail down to the root may be necessary. Should the cause be systemic, the underlying disease must be diagnosed and treated before the nail problem can be addressed.

How to Trim Thick Toenails – Trimming thickened toenails is a much more difficult task than trimming normal nails. In most cases your nail trimmer will be ineffective, and you may need a nail file or emery board and podiatry-grade nippers. Consulting your podiatrist or primary care physician is recommended, especially for individuals with diabetes, poor circulation, or reduced sensation, or those taking anti-coagulants such as Warfarin, Coumadin, or Plavix.

Here are some tips to help you prevent toenail problems:  Always watch for changes in the skin and nails. Such changes may indicate an such underlying problem that should be checked by your podiatrist.

  1.  Trim your nails straight across, and not too short. – File your nails regularly in order 
     to prevent sharp edges.
  2.  Wear properly-fitting shoes and socks with adequate space for toes and nails.
  3.  Keep your shoelaces tied tightly to prevent the foot from sliding in the shoe.
  4.  Avoid shoes with small toe boxes or high heels.
  5.  If you’re having difficulty (for example, if you’re cutting flesh), seek help from a professional.

Once again consult with your podiatrist or primary care physician is highly recommended, especially for individuals with diabetes, poor circulation, or reduced sensation.

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