Toenail Falling Off: Causes (Diabetes, Cancer, Injury) and Home Remedies

HomeUnusual SymptomsToenail Falling Off: Causes (Diabetes, Cancer, Injury) and Home Remedies

Research shows that about five percent of Americans are struggling with falling nails. Globally, eighteen percent of the population is fighting this condition. This article will discuss the causes and possible remedies of toenail falling off.

A toenail is said to have occurred when your nails separate itself from the nail bed and end up falling off. This is referred to as onychoptosis or onycholysis in medical terms. Vanessa Ngan from DermNetNZ explains that a falling nail will be noticed from the tip. This is because detachment from the nail bed begins at the nail’s tip.


The symptoms for onycholysis vary depending on the cause. They include the following;

  • Flaky appearance and discoloration; this mostly occurs when your toenail has a fungal infection. In the case of candida infection, your toenail turns yellow. The toenail may also become green or white, depending on the causes.
  • Swelling and redness around the cuticle; this is common when the toenail falls off following a candida infection.
  • Thickening; Harvard Health states that, when your toenail thickens and possibly starts having uneven edges, it is about to fall off.
  • Loosening of the toenail; usually, your nail is firmly attached to the nail bed. If you notice that the toenail loosens, then there is a likelihood that it will fall off. This is most common if you have a thyroid disorder.
  • Pain; although this is not always a common symptom, you may experience pain under specific conditions. For instance, when the nails tear some parts of the nail bed before falling off, it is usually extremely painful. Also, if your toenail falls off following an injury, you may experience pain.
  • Bleeding; This is rare but possible symptoms of a falling nail. It is common when an injury causes the falling of the nail.

Why do toenails fall off: causes

Several reasons cause your nail to fall off. Below is a detailed discussion on why your nail detaches itself from the nail bed;

Fungal infection

A falling nail is commonly associated with fungi, a yeast called dermatophytes. When they get under your nail, they eat up the nail bed tissues. This is when you notice the possibility of your nail crumbling off.

Further research reported in the Indian Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences supports the above further. According to their research, fungal infections on your toenail will cause it to thicken and eventually loosen and fall off.

Generally, you can identify if your toenail is falling off due to fungal infection if you notice three things;

  • The toenail becomes thick and appears to be overgrown.
  • The toenail crumbles and appears to be nearly falling.
  • Your toenail turns either white, yellow, or brown.

In most cases, a nail will fall off due to fungal infection if it is usually enclosed in the dark and in moist environments. Those are the perfect conditions for fungi to thrive. Wearing socks, all stockings all the time is not advisable. You toenails need exposure to air. They need a chance to dry off any moisture.

You need to stop sharing footwear materials with people as soon as you realize you have the fungal infection. This is because it is easily spread, and it may leave the other people around you with the possibility of a falling nail due to the same fungal infection.


If you have diabetes, you are at a higher risk of experiencing falling toenails. This is because your immune system is weak, and you are predisposed to infections. Diabetes may also lead to foot problems, and falling toenails is one of them.

Peripheral neuropathy causes diabetic nerve damage. Among the many long nerves in your body is one that runs from your spine to the toenails. This explains why your toenails are an easy target for any infections when you have diabetes.

High blood sugar causes the blood vessels in the feet to become weak and scarred. This makes your feet very sensitive and vulnerable, and that is why you end up with toe complications such as falling nails.

Toenail injury or frequent trauma

Repeated trauma is likely to cause your toenail to fall off. When you frequently wear very tight shoes, your nail gets injured. In addition to that, inappropriate techniques when doing pedicure may cause your nail to fall off. Apart from that, when a heavy object injures your toenail, it experiences unbearable pressure and may fall off.

European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology journal confirms the possibility of footwear pressure cause your nail to detach from the nail bed.

Jogger’s toe or runner’s is an Injury associated with athletes. This is as discussed by the Cleveland clinic. Athletes experience frequent nail injuries. This eventually causes the toenail to fall off. According to Dr. Georgeanne Botek, blood blisters cause a nail to turn black, and in the end, it gets lifted and falls.

A survey conducted in 1973 indicated that about fourteen percent of all marathon runners experience a falling nail.


Although chemotherapy helps you fight tumors inside you, it leaves with toenails complications. You will experience falling off of your toenails either during or after the chemo treatment. You will notice that the toenails break off with others having a serious problem like bleeding.

The bad news is, there may be nothing much you can do to prevent the toenails from falling off during or after chemotherapy. This is because; it is usually a common side effect of the drugs used during the chemo. The best you can do is keeping the nails trimmed to reduce the breakage.

Bacterial infection

When a bacterial infection gets to your toenail, your nail is likely to separate from the nail bed. This is not very common, not unless you are frequently exposed to bacterial infections. Some of the bacterial infections cause your nail to turn green before it falls off. The color helps you guess the cause of a nail to fall off.

Excess moisture on toenails

When you expose your toenails to moisture too often, they are likely to weaken. A weak toenail will loosen and eventually fall off. DermNet explains that if you leave your feet in water for long periods, you will most likely experience onycholysis. Wearing moist shoes may also lead to their weakening.


Psoriasis of the toenail causes the nail to come off. Psoriasis causes new skin cells to be produced in excess. Brazilian Society of Dermatology state that psoriasis thickens the nail and causes it to fall off. Their study also indicates that 80% of the people who have psoriasis will develop nail psoriasis as well.

Viral infection

Some studies indicate that a falling nail is associated with the viral infection. More precisely, Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is the viral infection suspected to cause your toenails to fall off.


Toenail dermatitis is a skin condition that loosens your toenails, consequently causing them to fall. Allergic reaction to an allergen is one cause of this skin condition. Additionally, toenail dermatitis may be caused by irritants. Research shows that a toenail may fall off due to eczema even before you notice any symptoms of eczema.


Though not common, anemia may be the reason your toenail falls off. Anemia is known to cause changes in the nail. Such changes include causing the nails to be crumbly and brittle. This will most likely lead to the loss of your toenail.

Types of medications

Sometimes, the medications you are taking may cause shedding of your toenail. The medications which are commonly associated with falling toenails are antibiotics and antiviral drugs. Moreover, medications for rheumatoid arthritis may cause your nails to fall off.

Thyroid disorder

Breaking off of your toenail may also be caused by a thyroid disorder. A study by Harvard Health explains nails falling off are a sign of an overactive thyroid gland. In most cases, a nail that falls off following a thyroid disorder does not grow properly.

Toenail falling off for no reason

Nails can fall off for no apparent reason. One of the conditions associated with such falling off is referred to as onychomadesis. When it occurs, you need to worry and possibly see your doctor. Onychomadesis is a condition that is painless and occurs when the nail plate is separated from the nail matrix. It is usually anti-inflammatory.

In most cases, however, there is always a reason behind the falling off of your nail. It may not be obvious, but it’s still there. When you suspect that your nail has fallen off for no identifiable reason, you should see your doctor. A physician can always see what a patient cannot.

Toenail fell off will it grow back

Despite the embarrassment and disappointment which comes with a falling nail, there is always hope of regrowth of the nail in the end. You shouldn’t, therefore, get very worried when your toenails fall off. A fresh one will always grow though it may take some time.

When your nail falls, you should not try to reattach it because it never will fall back to its place. A new nail will grow in its place. It takes at most 18 months for your nail to grow again.  This is usually the case where your nail was totally fallen or where the roots were also removed.

It may take a much shorter duration for it to grow in the case where only part of the nail was detached. In such a case, it grows within a short time to catch up with its normal length.

Toenail falling off treatment

Treating toenail infections will vary depending on what exactly caused the condition. You need to see a podiatrist in the case where the toenail falling is caused by a bacterial or fungal infection.  As well when the falling of the toenail is accompanied by; pain, redness, discharges, or any swelling, you will need to see your doctor.

The most common treatment options available include the following;

Topical medication

This comprises of antifungal creams, lotions, and nail polish used in treating nail infections mostly caused by fungi. There is a possibility of recurrence of a nail fall if fungal infections initially caused it.  This topical medication works very well to prevent any future occurrence of such infections.

Oral antifungal pills

These are pills commonly prescribed for severe cases of fungal nail infections. These pills are only recommended in the case where the topical treatment fails. Otherwise, it is never the first option. Remember to follow all the prescriptions given when taking those pills as that is the only way to quick and effective results.

Removing the infected toenail

In some cases, the only solution is removing the infected toenail. Nevertheless, this is only advisable where the condition is not only persistent but also recurrent. Your doctor removes not only the nail but also its roots. This is done in order to prevent any possibility of regrowth.

Toenail falling off natural remedies

You can treat a nail that seems to be falling off using natural remedies such as;

Tea tree oil

Tea tree oil is a natural antifungal. By topically applying tea tree oil, you can treat a toenail that has a fungal infection. This prevents it from loosening and strengthens it. Family Practice Journal praises tea tree oil for its ability to work as effectively as any other antifungal medication.

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  1. File and trim the toenail that is infected. You must trim any part of the nail that is crumbly. On a cotton swab, pour a few drops of tea tree oil
  2. Apply the tea tree oil on the toenail by brushing it through using the swab
  3. This should be done at least two times a day
  4. You will need to do this for some months until you notice that all signs of a falling nail have disappeared.

Ice pack

When your nail is injured, you are advised to place crushed ice on it immediately. This works miracles in preventing any possibility of losing your nail after the injury.


  1. Into a sealable bag, place crushed ice in a plastic bag that is sealable.
  2. Wrap it very well using a thin towel
  3. To ensure no blood flows to the injury, keep your feet elevated.
  4. Place the bag with the ice on the injured toenail for about fifteen minutes.
  5. You are required to do these three times a day for quicker and more effective results.

Removing the infected nail

Sometimes, you can solve the problem of a falling nail by just getting rid of it. However, you should only do this in the case where there is no bleeding, swelling, or any form of discharge. If any of the listed is noticed, only the doctor should remove your nail.

Below is a guideline on how to remove the toenail at home;

  1. Trim the affected nail until it is short and smoothen the edges.
  2. Using scissors, remove your already detached nail. This is applicable where the nail is only partially detached.
  3. Either apply a cold compress on the nail or soak it in water. This should be done for about twenty minutes.
  4. Apply an antibiotic on the toe or whichever ointment you prefer.
  5. Cover your toe using a bandage. This is so as to protect it from any possible infections.
  6. Ensure you practice aftercare techniques such as proper hygiene and staying away from moisture. This speeds the healing process as well as preventing future infections.

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