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brittle nails

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Brittle nails

Alternative Names
onychoschisis, onychorrhexis, onychochizia

Brittle nails are fingernails that peel and break easily.

What is going on in the body?
Fingernails and toenails are made up of protein layers. Fingernails usually grow about 3 times faster than toenails. The thickness and strength of the nails is inherited. Except in extreme malnutrition, what a person eats has little effect on nail health.

What are the signs and symptoms of the condition?
The signs and symptoms of brittle nails include:
  • peeling at the nail tips
  • easy breaking
  • inability to grow the nails out

What are the causes and risks of the condition?
The main cause of brittle nails is extreme dryness of the nail. Frequent hand washing usually causes this. It is more of a problem in dry climates or during winter months. People who wash their hands frequently or are in water a lot are also at risk.

Repeated injury to the nail tip can also lead to brittle nails.

What can be done to prevent the condition?
Using a moisturiser daily can prevent brittle nails.

How is the condition diagnosed?
The diagnosis is made when splitting of the nails is seen. An inflammation caused by a fungus or skin disorders such as psoriasis (sore-eye-ah-sis) must be ruled out.

What are the long-term effects of the condition?
The long-term effects of brittle nails include:
  • discomfort
  • short nails
What are the treatments for the condition?
Brittle nails can be avoided by keeping the nails out of water. Application of heavy moisturising cream after washing the hands can be helpful. Frequent application and removal of nail polish should be avoided.

What happens after treatment for the condition?
Keeping the nails moisturised is important to nail health.

Reviewer: HealthAnswers Australia Medical Review Panel
Editor: Dr David Taylor, Chief Medical Officer HealthAnswers Australia
Last Updated: 1/10/2001
Potential conflict of interest information for reviewers available on request

This website and article is not a substitute for independent professional advice. Nothing contained in this website is intended to be used as medical advice and it is not intended to be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease, nor should it be used for therapeutic purposes or as a substitute for your own health professional's advice.  All Health and any associated parties do not accept any liability for any injury, loss or damage incurred by use of or reliance on the information.


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