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Onycholysis: Causes, Symptoms, Prevention, And Treatment

Onycholysis: Causes, Symptoms, Prevention, And Treatment

Nails can act as a barometer of your overall health. So, if your nails look discolored, deformed, or start detaching from the nail bed, this could be a visible sign of a certain condition or trauma. When talking about nail separation from the skin, ‘onycholysis’ is the medical term which describes the condition.

So, onycholysis is a medical condition characterized by a separation of the nail from the nail bed. Nail plate separation can occur for different reasons, but the most common cause is onychomycosis (a fungal nail infection). However, the separation of the nail can also be caused by other conditions or traumas such as nail psoriasis, bacterial infections, local irritation, etc. Sometimes onycholysis can also indicate that you are not getting enough essential vitamins or minerals, such as iron. The most cases of this nail condition are seen in women with long fingernails.

According to dermatologists, there are usually two instances of onycholysis:

Distal onycholysis: Nail plate begins separating at the far edge of the nail and proceeds down toward the cuticle. This is the most common case of onycholysis.

Proximal onycholysis: The nail plate separation begins in the cuticle area and continues up the nail.

Depending on the nail growth, onycholysis can last for several months until the nail will fully grow out. Until then, the nail will not reattach to the skin.

Usually, fingernails grow about one-tenth of an inch (3 millimeters) a month. So, for a fingernail to fully regrow completely, it will take four to six months. On the other hand, toenails may take a year to a year and a half to grow.


Credit: Andrik Langfield on Unsplash


Causes of Onycholysis

Onycholysis may be a sign of various nail traumas or conditions. So the most common causes of this nail condition are as followed:

– Wearing tight shoes.

– Repetitive tapping or drumming of the fingernails.

– Reaction to systematic medication, such as chemotherapy drugs, or antibiotics (such a tetracycline).

– Reaction to chemical nail polish removers, artificial nail tips, or household clean products.

– Fungal infections; when the space under the nails is infected with yeast, which results in a white or yellow tinge in the nail.

– Nails psoriasis; which can look very much like a fungal infection. That’s why it requires a biopsy to be performed to distinguish it from the fungal infection.

– Bacterial infections, such as Pseudomonas, which is most often occurs in people who frequently have their hands in water. Pseudomonas causes a blue-green or black discoloration on the nail plate.

– Iron deficiency or thyroid over-activity.


Symptoms of Onycholysis

The first symptom you will notice if you have onycholysis is usually painless. Basically, your nail will begin peeling upward off of the nail bed underneath. Some of the possible colors the affected nail may have are yellowish, greenish, white, gray, or purple. The color will change depending on the underlying cause of onycholysis.


Credit: Daiga Ellaby on Unsplash


Prevention of Onycholysis

To prevent onycholysis from developing, follow the below steps:

– If your onycholysis is happening to your toenails, always wear clean socks and expose your feet to dry air

– Avoid wearing warm, wet shoes for prolonged periods

– If necessary, follow a balanced diet rich with vitamin D and iron

– During a workout or manual labor, wear gloves and appropriate footwear

– Manage any thyroid conditions

– Treat your psoriasis with therapies and medications


Treatment of Onycholysis

The first step one should make in order to treat your onycholysis is to determine the cause of onycholysis.


See Also

If you have experienced an injury, it may not require much special treatment. However, if the skin is exposed, make sure to keep the area clean and prevent infection. Try not to clean under the nail, as the water may push bacteria or fungus deeper under the nail.

Fungal infection

If you have a fungal infection, you will need to treat the infection with antifungal medication. Usually, fungus medication is controlled through medicated creams and ointments.

Thyroid over-activity

If the onycholysis is caused by thyroid issues, proper medications will help the thyroid regulate hormone production.

Vitamin and mineral deficiencies

When onycholysis appears as a result of vitamin and mineral deficiencies, create and follow a dietary plan. However, the doctor may also prescribe or recommend supplements to help your nail condition and help the nails regain strength.


If you are diagnosed with the chronic skin condition – psoriasis, your nails may turn an ashy color and separate from the nail bed underneath. Psoriasis is typically treated with creams, biologics, systemics, and phototherapy.


Home Remedies

Home remedies and over-the-counter remedies which consist of essential oils may help you treat onycholysis and bring back healthy nails. One home remedy which has proven to be effective in treating fungus infection is tea tree oil. When combined with a carrier oil, tea tree oil has natural antifungal properties and might provide effective treatment.

However, no matter the cause, it is always recommended to follow a doctor’s instructions on how to treat the underlying condition. If not treated well, it may result in condition worsening or recurring.



Disclaimer: The contents of this article: text, graphics, images, and other materials contained are strictly for informational purposes only. The Content is NOT intended to be used as a substitute for professional medical diagnosis, advice, or treatment. Please ALWAYS seek the advice of a qualified health provider with all the questions that you have related to, or about, a medical condition.


Another nail infection you might be interested to learn about is Paronychia:

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