Updated: Jul 29, 2020
Torn and broken toenails are common yet painful conditions, especially when the entire nail falls off. They can result from simple mistakes, like dropping a heavy object on your foot, or more serious complications like fungal infections. No matter the cause, the severity of the toenail injury will call for a particular treatment method. Here is what we suggest on how to treat a toenail that falls off based on how it happened.
Accident or Injury
Toenails are made from a strong fibrous protein called keratin. They serve to protect your toes’ soft tissue from serious damage. But when you experience a foot or toe injury, the bones and muscles may not be the only parts affected. Some incidents can also lead to a toenail getting ripped off. When this occurs, it’s important to first examine the injury. Has the entire nail been torn off? If not, is it still attached to the nail bed?
If part of the nail remains, make sure to carefully trim or file any jagged or overhanging edges. This will ensure that the remaining part of your nail does not catch on anything and rip off entirely. Then, clean the exposed soft tissue (or nail bed) and cover it with a bandage. As you bandage, ensure that the medical tape does not come in contact with your wound. If your remaining toenail turns black or purple, visit a local podiatrist. This discoloration is typically caused by subungual hematoma, or pooling blood beneath your nail. If the blood continues to build, it may cause the remaining part of your nail to completely separate from the nail bed. You should also seek medical attention if you experience any of the following:
You cannot trim the torn or broken nail to prevent further injury
Pain or swelling becomes worse
You have a deep cut
If your entire nail rips off, visit a podiatrist as soon as possible. Bring the nail with you if you can. This will protect your nail bed better than any bandage. In addition to treating your nail and nail bed, a podiatrist will assess if your toe is infected and determine if it requires antibiotics or even a tetanus shot.
Fungal infections can spread throughout many parts of the body, including between the nail and nail bed. And, yes, they can cause your toenails to fall off if they go untreated! Symptoms of a fungal infection in your toenail or nail bed include:
Thickening of the nail
Yellow, white, or yellowish-brown discoloration
Distorted nail shape
Nail begins to separate from nail bed, called onycholysis
In order to prevent your toenail from falling off, visit a podiatrist as soon as you see any of these symptoms. Although some home remedies can slightly improve your fungal infection, they will not completely eliminate the underlying issue. A podiatrist, in turn, will assess the severity of the issue and create a personalized treatment plan based on their assessment. This can include a combination of laser toenail treatment and topical medication, depending on your fungal infection.
If the fungal infection has already caused the nail to fall off, then it can take several months to a year to grow back. In the meantime, you should focus on treating the affected toe. The loss of a toenail can cause ulcerations or skin tears, which can spread the infection. To prevent fungal infections in the future, consider the following:
Keep your feet and toes dry, which may require you to routinely change your socks
Wear shoes that allows your feet to breathe
Keep your toenails trimmed and filed
Overall, if your toenail falls off, it’s important to clean and protect the exposed nail bed. Then, visit your podiatrist so they can help you get back on your feet as quickly and painlessly as possible.