A toenail falling off due to an infection

This injury is widespread, and almost everyone had it at least once in their lifetime. Unfortunately, there are a lot of ways we can hurt our toe, tear and ever rip out an entire toenail.

The medical term for toenails falling off is Onychoptosis. This term indicates the separation of the nail and the nail bed. This “separation” (just like any other) is extremely painful and will lead to the discoloration of the toenail area. More on that later.

What Causes A Toenail To Fall Off?

There are two leading causes of onychoptosis:

  • Mechanical injury and
  • Infection

Mechanical Injuries

Mechanical injuries are most common in athletes, such as football, basketball, tennis, volleyball players; pretty much any sport is a potential hazard, even if you pay particular attention to the health of your feet.

The main problem here is that athletes put enormous pressure on their feet and their shoes. This pressure can lead to the separation of the nail plate, causing pain and discoloration. There is also an added danger of someone stepping on your feet, or hurting you in some other way.

Of course, these injuries are common in athletes, but that doesn’t mean the rest of us are immune. I can’t tell you how many times is stubbed my toe late at night, just because I didn’t bother to turn on the light.

Though tearing your toenail in a “home environment” is rare, it sure can happen. Another “risk factor” is a long toenail. This is why it’s important to keep your nails in check, and at the end of the article, we will recommend a good kit to do just that so stay tuned.


Though they can be severe, mechanical injuries are relatively easy to deal with, but infections can lead to some problems before they are adequately treated.

There are some infections which can affect your toes, and fungi called dermatophytes cause the most common one. Dermatophytes are fungi relying and feeding on keratin.

Keratin is a protein which protects or cells from stress or damage. It forms a sturdy and durable layer of tissue and (in our case) its principal job is to protect nerve endings in our toes.

Dermatophytes can also affect your skin and hair, in addition to the nails. This infection can be particularly unpleasant as it will cause pain, swelling, and localized redness around the nail. This is due to the fact the fungi are in the bed of the nail.

Fungal infections are relatively common, though they mostly hit men. Some of the risk groups and factors for a nail infection are:

  • Medical conditions such as diabetes
  • Poor circulation in the extremities
  • People over 65 years of age
  • Women who wear artificial nails
  • Individuals with an existing nail or skin injury
  • People with weaker immune system

It is important to note that not every infection will cause a nail to fall off, but the disease can spread very rapidly and even penetrate to the nail matrix (that’s the name for the root of the nail) and cause a more severe damage.

This is why the infection should be treated as soon as possible!

Symptoms Of Torn Nail

Since we’ve already divided the causes into two distinct groups, we shall do the same with the symptoms (though both injuries and infections may share some of these symptoms).

When talking about mechanical injuries, the predominant symptom is, of course, intense pain. The pain will be sharp and severe at the time of the injury and may persist during that initial healing period. The intensity will decrease over time, but it may even be present until the nail falls off.

In addition to pain, you will also experience bleeding, redness, sores, a change in color, and eventually losing the nail itself.

Now, an important distinction between a mechanical injury and an infection is that when you injure yourself a nail will not change color! Of course, the surrounding tissue (and the tissue under the nail) will change color, but the nail itself won’t. This is a crucial bit of information when it comes to the diagnosis.

If your nail is infected, it will become thicker (due to the overgrowth) and change color. The color is usually yellow, but the nail can get brown, and in some rare cases even green! Other symptoms are pretty much shared with mechanical injuries – pain, swelling and redness around the nail.

We have one more problem when it comes to infections. As the affected toenail is falling off, a new, healthy nail will start to grow. Now, if you have an infection, it will often spread to that new nail as well.

This is one of the reasons we said you should attempt to cure an infection as soon as possible. Visit your doctor, and he will prescribe a suitable medicine for the type of fungi responsible for your particular infection.

There is one more reason to attempt to cure it as quickly as you can – nail deformity. The infection may affect the way your toenail grows, and even cause it to become deformed. This is not something you would ever want, so it is better to prevent it from even happening in the first place.


Before talking about the treatment, I wanted to take a moment to talk about prevention. Everyone is so focused on treatment, but if you just paid a little more attention, you may have avoided this problem in the first place.

Here are a few tips to consider:

  • Proper shoe size – the shoes got to be larger at least ½ inches than feet
  • Hygiene – maintaining your foot health will help you steer clear of infections and allow you to have healthy feet you will be proud of
  • Be mindful of the possibility of the injury – be extra careful when playing sports, carrying heavy objects, or walking about your apartment
  • Do not rip or tear – ripping a damaged nail will just make matters worse so try not to do it. Use a nail kit
  • Socks quality – when buying your socks, make sure they are made of cotton

How To Treat A Nail That’s Falling Off?

Home treatment is advised if the injury (or an infection) is not as severe. The first thing you can do in the comfort of your own home is to trim the nail down to appropriate size – trim the excess you’ve torn or just cut it if you suspect an infection.

And now, for the trimming… I’m not a fan of telling people what to buy, and if you want to do your research, please do. Whatever you do though, please steer clear of cheap, poorly made clippers. Honestly, they might cost less at the beginning, but it’s just not worth it because you will just end up replacing them over and over again, not to mention they can further damage your nail.

My advice is to go for something long lasting. An example of a reliable kit is Familife. It’s an 11 piece set, made of stainless steel and comes with a lifetime warranty. You can check it out on Amazon.com by clicking HERE.

Once the nail is nice and trimmed, you should consider bandaging it. This is how you will protect the nail from dust and debris that can further irritate the injury and also keep it safe at night as you sleep. You might also consider wearing a sock (even if it’s hot outside), just to add another layer of protection.

If it all goes well, the nail will take 5-6 months to grow again entirely. And if you notice any irregularities, visit a professional.

And if you’ve got an infection, there are two paths you can take:

Oral Antifungal Medication
There is the drug taken orally which you doctor will prescribe. It is essential to speak to a physician since he will give you the right type of medication and make sure you take the appropriate dosage. These factors will ensure that you get rid of the infection in the shortest amount of time possible.

Topical Medication
There are some different types of topical medication; they come in the form of a cream, gel, or a spray. Whichever type you chose, the bottom line is the same – killing/damaging the cell of the fungi, reducing their number and preventing them from spreading.

In some rare cases, you might also get an injection, but usually, a topical product is more than enough.

In recent years, a new type of treatment emerged, it’s laser treatment. Though it is very effective in killing fungi, it is not yet as widespread, and it may be more expensive when compared to the other types of treatment.

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