To protect the tops of your toes, toenails are naturally thick. However, they can become unnaturally thick at times, which can be a cosmetic issue for some people, especially if they turn discolored. Although the change in thickness is irreversible, there are still techniques to care for your nails and keep other nails from becoming excessively thick.
Toenails naturally thicken with age, but other factors such as fungal infections, autoimmune diseases, or mechanical stressors from improperly fitted shoes can also produce thick toenails.
The appearance of thick toenails, frequent causes, and treatment options are discussed in this article.
A podiatrist trims toenails and examines a foot.
1. Thick Toenail Symptoms
Toenails on most adults are 1 to 2 millimeters thick. Men’s toenails are slightly thicker than women’s.
Toenail thickness can be tested with calipers, but this is mostly done for research purposes.
Most of the time, your healthcare professional will perform a clinical examination and examine your feet to discover if your toenails are thicker than normal.
As your toenails thicken, you may notice changes in their appearance and texture, as well as changes in the sensation (feeling) in your toes and toenails.
When more layers grow beneath the surface of the nail, it thickens. If the thickening is excessive, the nail may separate from the nail. If the thickness becomes excessive, the nail may lift away from the nail bed (onycholysis). This usually causes the nail to turn white or somewhat yellow in color.
If a fungus is causing the thickening of your toes, they may turn yellow or brown. Toenail fungus frequently causes the nails to become brittle and easily fall off or flake.
An ingrown toenail may stink, especially if there is yeast, bacteria, or infection discharge (such as blood or pus).
People occasionally report that their toes have a “cheesy” odor. A single bacteria is generally to blame.
It’s not uncommon to notice a fragrance while trimming your toes. However, if a toe is ingrown and there is a lot of bacteria buildup, you may experience the odor at other times as well.
Smooth and strong toenails are typical of healthy feet. Nails, on the other hand, can crumble as they thicken.
Brittle toenails can easily break, crack, or split.1 The once smooth nail may now be rough and uneven.
When wearing closed-toe shoes, thickened toenails may cause discomfort or suffering. Thicker toenails may not fit comfortably inside your shoe, resulting in chafing, friction, or
Pain while walking.
Toenail paresthesia (numbness or tingling) is also possible.
Fingernail and toe nail structure and growth
What Are the Causes of Thick Toenails?
Thick toenails are caused by an accumulation of the cells that make up your toes. Increased age, nail fungus, and nail psoriasis (an autoimmune illness) are three possible causes.
It is normal for your toenail thickness to alter as you age.1 Foot hygiene issues can have an impact on toenail health.
Hip and shoulder flexibility begins to decline in women over the age of 63 and males over the age of 71.7, according to research. This loss of mobility and reduction in hand strength might make cleaning feet and clipping toenails more difficult.
Fungus on the Nails
The most common nail illness in the world is nail fungus. It affects 10% of the population in the United States and is more common in those who have diabetes, cancer, peripheral artery disease, or the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).
Toenail fungus can spread from another foot fungus (for example, athlete’s foot) or from a surface such as a shower floor or a shoe. Toenail fungus risk factors include:
Weakened immune system (as a result of a chronic illness or cancer therapy)
Showers and swimming pools are examples of shared wet places.
There are some particular diagnostics and treatment options available for nail fungus, but none are completely effective. Two types of antifungal oral drugs are thought to be the most useful.
The 4 Most Effective Toenail Fungus Treatments in 2023
Psoriasis of the nails
Psoriasis is an inflammatory illness that causes itchy, inflamed patches of skin. In some patients, psoriasis extends to the nails, causing them to thicken and become brittle.
Psoriasis can weaken your nails. They may even fall off entirely. There are several therapies available for psoriasis of the nails. Your healthcare team will consult with you to evaluate which option is best for you.
An Overview of Psoriasis Nail Psoriasis Toe Injuries
Runners and other sports are at risk of injuring their toes due to the repetitive microtrauma caused by the nails rubbing against their shoes.
Paronychia occurs when the skin around the wounded nail is also injured and infected.
The Yellow Nail Syndrome
Yellow nail syndrome, a fairly rare illness, can cause strange nail alterations in older persons.
People with the disorder suffer swelling in their legs and respiratory issues, in addition to thick, yellow-colored nails.
Nails Made from Ram’s Horn
Onychogryphosis, commonly known as Ram’s horn nails, is a condition in which the nails turn yellow or brown and become extremely thick, long, and curled. The big toe nail is the most commonly afflicted.
Ram’s horn nails can occur in anyone, however they are more likely to occur as a result of a foot injury, infection, chronic skin health problem (such as psoriasis), or a condition that affects blood circulation (such as peripheral artery disease).
Ram’s horn nails deteriorate over time and can cause complications such as ingrown nails and toenail infections.
Who Is Predisposed to Thick Toenails?
You are more likely to grow thick toenails if you:
Wear shoes that don’t fit properly.
Swim, take a shower at the gym, and go around a locker room barefoot.
Poor foot hygiene (e.g., wearing sweaty shoes, not washing your feet, not keeping your nails clipped)
You have a foot injury.
Have a weakened immune system (due to a sickness or medication)
As long as your toes do not become infected, having thick toe nails should not cause any severe health problems.
However, if you see changes in your toenails, you should notify your healthcare professional because it could be a symptom of a health condition (including cancer). You may require testing to get a diagnosis.
Don’t be concerned if you’re embarrassed to reveal your toes. Medical professionals are at ease examining and analyzing a wide range of health issues.
If you have trouble keeping your toenails clean and clipped, you should see a specialist who specializes in foot and lower leg issues (podiatrist) for continuous foot care.
How to Remove Thick Toenails
There isn’t much you can do to get rid of thick toenails rapidly. Because toenails grow slowly, it takes a long time to repair thick or broken ones.
Even with continuing therapy, some toenail disorders might take up to a year to resolve.
A foot bath is the simplest technique to deal with thick toenails at home:
Allow some baking soda, Epsom salt, or white vinegar to dissolve in warm water and soak your nails for a few minutes.
If you suspect the ingrown nail is infected, soak it in a solution of hydrogen peroxide and water.
There is some evidence that using Vicks VapoRub, an over-the-counter decongestant, may aid with toenail thickness. Apply a small amount to your affected toe once a day.
Check that your shoes fit properly and do not put strain on your toes.
You should also avoid using nail paint on your toes while they are healing.
If you suffer a toe injury and your nail is temporarily thick, it may improve with time. You can tell if it improves as a fresh, healthy nail grows out.
Some drugs are offered over-the-counter as creams or liquids that are painted on the nails. Before attempting any of these procedures, consult with your healthcare physician.
Because the drug may not be able to travel through the nail to the fungus underlying, topical OTC nail treatments may not cure nail fungus.
If systemic therapy (medicine that works throughout your body) is required for your nail fungus, your specialist may recommend oral pills. Fungus treatment pills can have dangerous adverse effects, so follow your provider’s directions.
Treatment for nail fungus may take many months to a year.
Laser therapy has been used to treat nail fungus and nail psoriasis.
Researchers are learning about various types of lasers that can be used to cure toenail fungus.
Talk to your provider about how many treatments you could need and what kind of results you can expect.
How to Avoid Ingrown Toe Nails
You can attempt a few methods to avoid developing ingrown toenails, and it all starts with keeping your feet healthy.
Avoid Fungal Infections
Good foot care can help to lower your chances of acquiring a fungal infection and keep it from returning after treatment. Here are some foot hygiene tips
Not sharing nail care instruments (such as nail clippers)
Wearing shoes in public places such as locker rooms or swimming pools
Shoes that are too tight or too loose should be avoided.
Because nail fungus frequently enters under the nail, having short nails helps lower the chance of infection. Consider rubbing alcohol cleaning your nail clippers after each usage.
Washing and disinfecting your socks, as well as treating your shoes, are other vital aspects of hygiene, particularly if you have nail fungus.8 This keeps the fungus from reinfecting your toes.
Minimize or prevent toenail injury by being cautious when walking in the dark, running, or engaging in strenuous exercise.
Thick toenails can be caused by a number of factors, including advanced age, nail fungus, and psoriasis. They are rarely serious health issues, although they can be bothersome. They might sometimes be a sign of a medical ailment that requires care.
Properly fitted shoes and appropriate foot cleanliness will help prevent and treat thick toenails. You should still consult with your doctor. They can explain any changes in your toenails and recommend a comprehensive treatment strategy.