When the dog’s toenails are prettier than yours, it’s time for action. Though you see them wherever bare feet and sandals occur, thick toenails are not just a benign side effect of getting older. They are a problem.
A good pedicure can do a lot to restore your feet to something you can expose in sandals without embarrassment, and you should treat yourself. But that’s not the whole answer because you also need to control whatever it is that causes your toenails to thicken to double, triple, and quadruple their normal size.
The most likely cause is a fungus—onychomycosis. It’s a condition that affects an estimated 20% of adults. Usually, it isn’t very noticeable at first. So when it seems that toenails are getting thicker with age, they are actually getting thicker the longer the fungus is present. Plus, this condition often begins on just one or two toes and it may take a while for it to spread to a whole foot and become obvious.
Onychomycosis is more visible on the feet of older people for another reason, too. The challenge of bending over.
Except for people who are naturally limber or who have worked at it with regular yoga or stretching, the average 60-year old has a lot more trouble reaching his or her toes than the average 18-year old.
At this point, I can almost hear you say, “I don’t have a fungus. It’s just this one nail that gets fat.”
You probably have a fungus.
Really. Onychomycosis can exist for a long time before it causes dire problems like foul odors, burning, itching, discoloration, or severely maimed looking brittle and crumbling nails. But that’s why you can treat it at home in most cases. If you stop it early, you won’t need prescription medicines.
There are other reasons for thick toenails as well. So if these apply to you, you will need a different answer. One is psoriasis. If you have it elsewhere, you may have it on your feet. And just as the disease causes thickening of the skin, it causes thickening of nails. This requires help from your doctor.
You should also see a doctor if you have poor circulation or diabetes.
You can also cause your nails to thicken by wearing shoes that rub, pinch, or push against the toenails. Dropping a hammer on your toes will do the trick as well. These cases are simple. Change shoes.
Also, change socks if you have sweaty feet. Sweat encourages fungus. Wicking materials that are sold for camping and hiking are good choices. So are pure wool socks.
But if fungus is the problem, then these simple home remedies may do the trick…
First, there’s Vick’s Vapo Rub. Put a dab on the top of your nail and rub it around the cuticle and edges of the nail every night. Vicks contains camphor and eucalyptus oil which can kill the fungus in some cases.
Another home cure that may work is snakeroot extract. This needs to be applied every third day for a month, every second day the next month, and once a week in the third month. It’s slow, but as long as you have no pain or itching, that doesn’t matter.
These gentle remedies are not a fast process. It takes a year or longer for a toenail to completely grow out, but they are easy and safe.
Finally, if you are not going out for a professional pedicure, you need to trim your nails carefully and keep them in shape. Soak your feet at least 10 minutes to soften the nail. Then use toenail “nippers,” which you can find in your local drugstore. Clip a little at a time until you can get the whole nail under control. File the edge of your nail gently to smooth it out.
And just in case you are feeling terrifically ambitious, a word of warning. Do not take a Dremel to the top of the nail to grind it down to normal thickness! That’s inviting fungus trouble ahead. Also, be careful about pushing back cuticles because you can easily cause a tear or break in the skin that gives fungus a new entry point.
The good news is that once your fungus is cleared up and your nails are in shape, they will probably stay that way with regular care.
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