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Onychorrhexis

Onychorrhexis can be defined as the medical condition in which the nails become brittle. As the structure of the nails is modified, these are going to break off much more easily. At the moment, it is estimated that approximately 20% of the general population suffers from onychorrhexis. Both women and men are equally affected by such changes and, in the majority of the situation, this is just a consequence of aging (no underlying cause present).


Presentation

In people who suffer from onychorrhexis, the nails become brittle or split. Apart from that, they may present a series of ridges on them, lengthwise (this is also known as longitudinal ridging). It is important not to mistake these changes for onychoschisis, in which only the ends of the nails split.

Onychorrhexis Pictures

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onychorrhexis pictures

Causes of Onychorrhexis

These are the main causes that can lead to the appearance of onychorrhexis:

  • Medical conditions (underlying)
    • Anemia
    • Anorexia nervosa
    • Bulimia
    • Thyroid disorders (hypothyroidism)
    • Cancer
    • Psoriasis
    • Eczema
  • Medication
    • Retinoid drugs (oral administration)
  • Excessive usage of different substances
    • Nail polish remover
    • Cuticle solvents
  • Trauma or injury to the respective finger(s)
  • Other causes
    • Prolonged or chronic exposure to water, soap or alcohol
    • Frequent tapping of the nails (keyboard, piano etc.)
    • Inadequate filing (rough or careless)
    • Idiopathic cause.

Apart from the above-mentioned causes, age is considered as one of the most important risk factors. Basically, the more we age, the higher the risk for our nails becoming brittle.

In those who suffer from an underlying condition, it seems that the structure of the nail is affected, either because of the condition per se or the administered treatment (metabolism of nail protein affected).

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Diagnosis of Onychorrhexis

In the situation that the onychorrhexis is not caused by aging, it is important to diagnose the underlying condition. The doctor might take the medical history of the patient, asking about the pre-existing medical conditions, treatments and surgical interventions. A physical assessment is going to be performed, in order to identify other symptoms. A complete blood count might be ordered, in order to assess the functioning of the thyroid and the levels of hemoglobin. Imaging studies are used in the situation that a malignant lesion is suspected.

Onychorrhexis Treatment

No specific treatment exists at the moment for onychorrhexis. However, when the brittle nails are caused by a systemic condition, it is sufficient to treat the underlying condition, in order to the structure of the nails to go back to normal.

For those who are worried about the aesthetic appearance of their nails, there are cosmetic solutions that can be used, such as special creams or even nail strengtheners. Nail enhancement might also help the patient to cover the unaesthetic aspect of the nails, without any risks for the health.

Biotin might prove out to be a potential treatment for brittle nails, as it can make the entire nail stronger. If you plan on using this treatment, however, you should know that it will take several weeks before the first results will appear. In general, it takes approximately six months for an entire nail to be replaced.

Self-care

You can improve the aspect of your nails by trying out these self-care measures:

  • When you wash dishes, make sure you wear protective gloves (especially during the cold winter months, when the risk of skin dryness is higher)
  • If you have worked with your hands and you have gotten your nails dirty, make sure you take the time to clean them properly (without being too rough, as you can aggravate the current problems)
  • Apply moisturizing cream to your nails and entire hands on a regular basis
  • Choose nail polish that has been fortified with vitamins and minerals
  • Make sure that your diet is rich in fresh fruits and vegetables, choosing those that especially provide you with the following vitamins and minerals (vitamin C, vitamin A, iron, calcium and niacin)
  • Avoid nail care products that contain harmful substances (solvents of any kind, formaldehyde or toluene)
  • Trim your nails and avoid letting them grow too long (higher risk for breaking and becoming brittle)
  • Biotin, the substance mentioned above, can also be found in certain food products, such as bananas, peanuts and oats
  • Take multivitamin supplements on a regular basis, as these can compensate for a diet that lacks certain nutrients and minerals.

Natural Remedies for Onychorrhexis

These are the recommended natural remedies for onychorrhexis:

  • Olive oil & cider vinegar
    • Heat the olive oil before blending it with an equal quantity of cider vinegar
    • Let the mixture cool down and dive your hands into it
    • Keep your nails in the mixture for 10-15 minutes and then wash your hands
    • Can add beer for an even more effective result
  • Melaleuca oil & vitamin E
    • Mix one teaspoon of melaleuca oil with several drops of vitamin E
    • Apply the resulting mixture to your nails and wait for it to work its magic
    • Rinse with lukewarm water
  • Argan tree oil & lemon juice
    • Mix argan tree oil with freshly-squeezed lemon juice in equal quantities
    • Dive your fingers into the resulting mixture for approximately 20 minutes
    • Rinse with lukewarm water
  • Sea salt & lemon juice
    • Mix several teaspoons with sea salt with several drops of freshly squeezed lemon juice
    • Apply the resulting mixture to the nails and wait for about 15-20 minutes
    • Rinse with lukewarm water
  • Vegetable oil
    • Take a small bowl with vegetable oil and dip your fingers into it
    • Keep them in vegetable oil for approximately 10-15 minutes
    • Rinse with lukewarm water
  • Horsetail herb
    • Natural remedy with high silica content
    • Recommended because it makes the nails stronger.

Should I be worried about my brittle nails?

If there is no underlying cause leading to the brittle nails, the answer is no. Brittle nails, when they appear on their own and as a consequence of aging, they pose no threat to one’s health. There are no complications caused by onychorrhexis, so the prognosis in general is excellent.

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