What Is Onychorrhexis and How Is It Treated? - Step To Health

What Is Onychorrhexis and How Is It Treated?

Grooves in your nails may indicate a condition known as onychorrhexis. Have you noticed irregularities in your nails? Find out if it's this condition and what to do about it.
What Is Onychorrhexis and How Is It Treated?

Last update: 17 November, 2021

Many people don’t pay as much attention to their nails as to other parts of the body. Big mistake! Sometimes, changes in the nail bed are indicative of systemic conditions. For this reason, we want to address a topic that not many people know about: onychorrhexis. We’ll tell you all about it and how it’s treated.

Before going into detail, it’s useful to remember what the nail matrix (nail bed) is. An easy way to define it is as the area on which the nail forms and rests. It’s responsible for the growth of the nail and, because of this, any changes it suffers can lead to problems.

What is onychorrhexis?

Onychorrhexis is a symptom that is part of the so-called “brittle nail syndrome“. It’s defined as the appearance of longitudinal grooves or fissures in the distal part of the nail, which extend towards the proximal edge, in one or more of them. It can occur on both hands and feet.

When severe, the fissures can cover up to 70% of the nail surface. Generally speaking, this occurs when the matrix has completely or partially ceased its growth function. Although its presence is more common in women, men can also suffer from it.

Unfortunately, it’s a condition that doesn’t only have one type of manifestation, as in many people it causes other symptoms that go beyond issues in the fissures. These are detailed below.

Nail weakness

The presence of cracks in the nails will cause a constant feeling of weakness in the nails. It will also make them more prone to injury. In addition to this, as it’s a condition that arises as a result of brittle nail syndrome, it will cause difficulty in their growth.

Onychorrhexis causes cracks in the nails, and, in turn, the nails become weak and prone to breakage.

Presence of cracks in one or more nails

While some people show signs of onychorrhexis in only one nail, others may notice it in several at the same time. The distribution will help doctors determine a possible cause and treatment. If it’s only in one nail, it may suggest something external or local.

However, if the cracks are in all nails, both on the fingers and the toes, doctors may suspect a possible internal or systemic origin. If so, the doctor may suggest additional tests.

To find out more, take a look at this article: 6 Remedies to Treat Thick Yellow Nails

Changes in the color of the fissures

We must take into account that having a crack in the nail is a gateway for different bacteria. Fungi or bacteria can easily enter and produce an infection. In addition to this, it also produces a change in the pigmentation of the area.

Besides this, another frequent cause of onychorrhexis is peripheral vascular alterations. These can lead to trophic changes in the skin, including a change in pigmentation. As a result, the nail becomes pale or cyanotic in colour.

Total breakage and detachment of the nail

If onychorrhexis isn’t treated in time, the fissure can progress so far that it reaches the proximal edge of the nail plate. This only occurs in the most severe cases, and usually results in a complete breakage of the nail.

In very rare cases, the fissures may be transverse and appear in the proximal part of the nail. In this case, if allowed to progress, it could cause onychomadesis, i.e. the total detachment of the nail.

Causes of onychorrhexis

Onychorrhexis can have multiple causes; however, one of the most common is ageing. In fact, this is the most frequent nail alteration in the elderly, even in the total absence of other diseases.

In the younger population, on the other hand, this alteration may be the result of a nutritional deficiency. The lack of some vitamins, such as A, B6, B7, B12, C and D, can cause weak nails and stretch marks. It can also occur due to iron deficiency and other minerals.

Among other causes of onychorrhexis we can find the following:

  • Peripheral vascular alterations
  • Exposure to chemical substances (detergents, solvents, thioglycolates, cuticle removers)
  • Repeated trauma
  • Consumption of drugs (acitretin, antiretrovirals)
  • Dermatological diseases (psoriasis, lichen planus, pityriasis rubra)
  • Endocrine and systemic diseases (hypothyroidism, anemia)
A person's nails.
Nutritional deficiencies, the consumption of certain drugs, and some diseases are associated with the appearance of onychorrhexis.

Treatment of onychorrhexis

The treatment of this symptom may vary, depending on its cause. However, it’s similar in all cases. When the specific cause is known, the pathology must be targeted in order to reverse it .

  • In the case of nutritional deficiencies, the medical treatment will be based on adapting the diet to restore the body’s deficiencies. In addition, the efficacy of oral administration of biotin (B7) and iron has been proven to treat onychorrhexis, regardless of its cause.
  • In cases that don’t have a specific cause, the medical treatment will aim to moisturize and harden the nails of the hand and feet. The use of emollient products and moisturizing creams will be recommended to increase water retention.
  • A home treatment that seems to serve as an adjuvant in these cases is the use of cyanoacrylate-based acrylics. It should be applied on the distal part of the affected nail, then covered with a piece of paper or cloth. Later, it will be sealed again with the acrylic.
  • Massages are also recommended to improve blood circulation.

How to prevent onychorrhexis?

Proper care of the fingernails and toenails will prevent the appearance of multiple disorders such as onychorrhexis. It’s important to cut the nails in one direction and to constantly moisturize them in order to guarantee their good growth and development.

If there’s any type of change, it’s advisable to seek urgent treatment to avoid complications such as weakening and breakage. It’s also advisable to see a doctor to rule out any underlying disease.

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In addition to external care, it's also essential to improve your diet to strengthen your brittle nails from the inside out.

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