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What Are the Common Causes of Flaky Toenails?

By Jennifer Mackin
Updated May 21, 2024
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For some people, having flaky toenails is embarrassing and makes them want to hide their feet. This can be especially true during the summer months when sandals are popular footwear. The common causes of toenails flaking are fungal infections and a genetic disorder.

One of the main causes of flaky toenails is fungal infection, also known as onychimycosis. Symptoms of a fungal infection are flaking toenails, yellowish discoloration of the nail and an unpleasant odor from the feet. Toenail problems caused by fungus can take months to treat or, in some cases, might never fully go away.

Preventative measures can reduce the possibility of a fungus infection. Wet socks and tennis shoes create a dark, moist environment for fungus to grow. Damp footwear should be exchanged for dry footwear as soon as possible. To give added protection, an anti-fungal powder can be sprinkled into shoes when they are dry.

Fungus also can grow in public places where the area stays moist. Walking barefoot in these areas can increase the chances of contracting a fungus. Protective footwear, such as flip-flops or swimming shoes, should be worn by people in public showers, swimming pools or any other high-traffic moist areas.

Even with taking preventative measures, fungal infection can still occur. If it does occur, there are ways of treating flaky toenails at home. One possible treatment is soaking the infected toenail in a vinegar-and-water mixture for 15 minutes every day until the toenail heals. Rubbing tea tree oil into the nail before bed each night is another possible method that might kill the fungus.

If the home treatments do not work, an over-the-counter anti-fungal cream can be applied to the flaky toenails. Medical attention might be required if the infection persists. A healthcare professional might prescribe a prescription-strength anti-fungal ointment to help clear up the infection.

One other cause of flaky toenails is psoriasis of the nails, also known as psoriatic nail disease. This condition normally arises in people who have been diagnosed with psoriasis, a condition that cause patches of red, itchy, flaky skin. A flaky toenail caused by psoriasis of the nail is not transmittable like nail flakiness caused by a fungus. This usually is an inherited condition, but on occasion, it can be caused by the strep throat virus and certain prescribed medication.

If the toenail becomes infected, painful or discolored, medical attention should be sought. A medical doctor might need to prescribe a prescription-strength ointment that contains a steroid or extra vitamin A or D. If the condition worsens, the nail might have to be chemically or surgically removed. Psoriasis of the nail is not curable.

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Discussion Comments
By donasmrs — On Aug 27, 2013

@turquoise-- Are you taking any medications?

I'm on an antidepressant medication and it is making my toenails flake. My doctor said that it's a rare side effect.

By stoneMason — On Aug 27, 2013

@turquoise-- I think there are different kinds of fungal infections out there and they might not have the same symptoms. So you might want to see your doctor just to make sure.

I'm glad you're taking vitamins because a vitamin deficiency can definitely cause flaky toenails. Also, do you apply lotion to your feet and nails?

I tend to get brittle, flaky nails in winter because they're too dry. Applying lotion makes a huge difference. There are also moisturizing oils that you can apply during a pedicure to nourish your nails.

By turquoise — On Aug 27, 2013

I've been suffering from flaky toenails for a few months now. I don't think it's a fungal infection because my nails are not discolored and there is no odor. My nails are just very brittle and flake off.

What might be causing this? I just started taking a multi-vitamin in case it's a vitamin deficiency. I'm not sure what else I can do.

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