What is Onychorrhexis?

A variety of structures such as nail bed, matrix and nail plate together make up the nails. The protection of the distal phalanx and the soft tissues along the finger tips that surround it is the main function of the nail. Onychorrhexis is a condition when the nails start to develop longitudinal ridges and become brittle. As a result, they break easily. However, Onychorrhexis must not be confused with Onychoschizia which is a condition that causes the splitting of the nails at the end.

Image Source: dermnetnz.org

Causes of Onychorrhexis

  • Hypothyroidism: It refers to a disorder of the thyroid glands that leads to lower production of hormones. Deficiency of thyroid hormones can make the nails brittle.
  • Anorexia Nervosa: It is a psychological condition when an individual becomes extremely conscious about his/her weight. The sensitivity goes to an extent where the individual begins to starve because they think they are too fat, even though they may be emaciated. It can also result in onychorrhexis.
  • Bulimia: It is also a psychological disorder related to a person’s idea about their weight. Under such conditions, one feels guilty about eating too much that could lead to weight gain. Hence, the person tries to control the weight by vomiting out whatever they may have eaten.
  • Anemia: Lower levels of blood as compared to the usual blood levels refer to the condition known as anemia. Anemia could jeopardize normal functioning in various parts of the body and can even make the nails brittle.
  • Psoriasis: It is a skin ailment that is chronic where red rashes begin to appear on the surface of the skin. These patches are often covered with scales and Onychorrhexis is one of the symptoms experienced during such a condition.
  • Cold: Prolonged exposure to cold or the use of cold water may result in the nails becoming brittle. Often people are advised to use gloves and other accessories to keep them warm and prevent from becoming numb.
  • Eczema: Another skin condition that causes red patches and inflammation on the surface of the skin, it is accompanied by itchiness and irritation. In such a situation, the body may be affected by some allergens and could also cause onychorrhexis.
  • Cancer: Cancer cells affect the body in a way that makes the body weak and feeble. The body is not able to provide enough nutrients to all parts. Moreover, the radiation used to treat cancer may take a toll on the other parts of the body such as the nails and hair. Thus cancer could cause nails to become brittle.
  • Medication: Certain medications may also lead to nails becoming brittle. The composition of retinoid drugs is such that it may lead to onychorrhexis. Image Source: www.dermnetnz.org
  • Trauma: Repeated injury on the same area of the nail could give it less time to heal and re-grow. It could be another reason why people may have brittle nails.
  • Malnutrition: All parts of the body require nutrients in certain quantities to grow and repair themselves. Malnutrition refers to a condition where the body does not get the required amounts of nutrients. As a result, nails may become weak.
  • Products: Excessive use of soap water solution, nail polish remover or cuticle solvents could make the nails brittle. They contain chemicals and other substances that could affect the nails if they are kept in contact for a prolonged period.
  • Heredity: Some people may have brittle nails as a hereditary feature. Their body contains genes that develop weaker nails than others.

Symptoms of Onychorrhexis

  • Nails peel & break easily
  • Series of longitudinal ridges are observed on the nail
  • Separation or break down of the nail’s protein layer Image Source: www.dermnetnz.org
  • Nails peel back inward from the edge to the cuticles
  • Dull, rough surface of the nail plate
  • Thickening of the nails
  • Arrested growth

Diagnosis for Onychorrhexis

  • Physical examination of nails and nail beds
  • Enquiry about family medical history so that that genetic conditions can be taken into consideration
  • Medical conditions for which onychorrhexis may be a symptom
  • Complete blood count
  • Imaging tests to check malignant lesions
  • Examination of thyroid level

Treatment of Onychorrhexis

  • Avoid harmful products: Nail polish remover, cuticle solvents, soaps, etc. are products that contain chemical substances. These substances are harsh on the nails and can be harmful.
  • Use natural products: Use of natural plant-based products such as moisturizers and cleansers can be used instead of harmful cosmetic items. These are mild in their composition and prevent the weakening of nails.
  • Eat healthily: Having a well-balanced diet helps to get the required nutrients and minerals needed by the body.
  • Prevent dehydration: Adequate amount of water must regularly be consumed to keep the body hydrated. Water also helps to flush out harmful toxins from the body as well as keep the nails healthy.
  • Trimming & filing: Nails must be trimmed at regular intervals and filed as per the requirement. It prevents the nails from growing in an unshapely manner or cracking while working or typing. They must be kept clean to prevent any infection.
  • Medication: To compensate for the lack of nutrients, individuals can take multivitamin supplements. These medicines in addition to their diet will help to improve the health of the nails.

Home Remedies of Onychorrhexis

  • Massaging the skin around the nails with vitamin E and melaleuca prevents growth of nail fungus and helps in the growth of strong and healthy nails
  • Nails can be dipped in a mixture of argan tea oil and fresh lemon juice for twenty minutes to improve the condition
  • Moisture lost while doing chores like washing and others can be replenished by dipping the nails in vegetable oil
  • Nails can be soaked in a mixture containing one-fourth cup of olive oil, and half cups of cider vinegar and beer for twenty minutes
  • Mixture of sea salt and lemon juice can be applied and rinsed with lukewarm water after 15-20 minutes

When to visit a Doctor?

There are many probable causes of onychorrhexis. Usually, such a condition can be managed by proper maintenance of the nails. However, nails can also become brittle as a sign of underlying health conditions. Finding out the actual reason behind the condition and proper treatment of the condition in future is only possible by proper diagnosis and medical advice from a doctor.

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