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Onycholysis is the painless separation of the nail from the nail bed. This is a common problem. It can be a sign of skin disease, an infection or the result of injury, but most cases are seen in women with long fingernails. The nail acts as a lever, prying the nail away from the skin and preventing healing of otherwise insignificant insults.

A local irritation is the most common insult. This may be from excessive filing, chemical overexposure in manicures or nail tip application, allergic contact dermatitis (a local reaction similar to the reaction to “poison Ivy”) to nail hardener or adhesives used to attach the nail tips, or simply to prolonged immersion in water.

Fungal infection and psoriasis can also cause onycholysis. These often cannot be told apart by examining alone, and a test for fungus needs to be done. Certain medications (oxsoralen, tetracyclineminocycline, naproxen) makes a person have abnormal sensitivity to light. One can get sunburn under the nails, which causes onycholysis. In rare cases all the nails are affected and then it can be a sign of iron deficiency or thyroid over-activity.

No matter what the cause, usually several nails are affected. Infection with bacteria and yeast starts to occur in the space under the nail. This turns the loose portion of the nail a white, yellow, or green tinge. Generally, if the infection appears to be green, it’s a bacterial infection and if it appears to be white it is a yeast infection. This has to be controlled before the nail will reattach. The nail can only take so much damage without being permanently deformed; if it has gone too far the nail changes may be permanent.

For treatment all of the unattached nail must be clipped off. The hand should be kept out of water as much as possible. Use gloves when cleaning and washing. It is very important to avoid mechanical cleaning under nails. One should not bandage or cover the cut nails. A drying agent such 3% Thymol in alcohol (by prescription) should be used after washing hands or getting hands wet for two or three months. Trim the nails back daily with a clipper until reattachment is seen. Additional medications by mouth may be needed in some cases.

What Is Onycholysis ?

Onycholysis is the separation of a fingernail or toenail from its pink nail bed. The separation occurs gradually and is painless.

The most common cause of Onycholysis is trauma. Even slight trauma can cause Onycholysis when it happens repetitively — for example, the daily tapping of long fingernails on a keyboard or counter. Onycholysis also can be caused by manicure tools that are pushed beneath the nail to clear dirt or smooth the nail. Too much moisture also can cause the problem.

Some medical conditions can cause onycholysis, generally by changing the nail’s shape or the contour of the soft tissue bed beneath it. In these situations, the nail cannot attach smoothly to the nail bed.

Fungal infections of the nails thicken the tissue immediately underneath the nail plate and cause edge of the nail to lift.

The skin condition psoriasis is a common cause of onycholysis.

After exposure to some medicines (notably medicines from the psoralen, tetracycline or fluoroquinolone groups) the nail can react to sun exposure by lifting away from its bed.

An overactive thyroid gland can cause onycholysis.

What are the Symptoms?

A nail that has lifted from its bed at its end can have an irregular border between the pink portion of the nail and the white outside edge of the nail. A greater portion of the nail is opaque, either whitened or discolored to yellow or green. Depending on the cause of onycholysis, the nail may have collected thickened skin underneath the edge of its nail plate, and the nail plate may have a deformed shape with pits or indentations in the nail surface, a bent nail edge or coarse thickening of the nail.

How is Onycholysis Diagnosed?

Your doctor will be able to confirm that you have Onycholysis by examining your fingernails or toenails. If the cause of Onycholysis is not obvious, your doctor will note additional characteristics of your nails, such as their shape and color, the presence of indentations in the nail surface, and the appearance of the skin under and around the nail. He or she also will examine you to check for evidence of skin rashes or thyroid problems.

If your doctor suspects that a fungal infection is the cause of nail changes, he or she might scrape a sample of tissue from beneath the nail plate. This sample can be tested in a laboratory to check for fungus.

What are the treatment options for Onycholysis in Singapore?

Because the portion of nail that has lifted away from its bed may catch on edges when you move abruptly, it is a good idea to trim the nail close to the place where it separates from the nail bed. A physician can help you do this.

Treatment for Onycholysis depends on the cause of the problem:

  • Treatment for hyperthyroidism can permit the nails to regrow normally.
  • Some treatments for psoriasis that are given by mouth may improve nail health.
  • Fungal nail infections sometimes can be treated with prescription medicines. However, the medicines required to treat the nail condition are expensive and can have side effects. You should discuss the pros and cons of treatment with your doctor.

Expected Duration for Recovery

Nails are slow to grow and take time to repair themselves. The portion of nail that has separated from the skin surface beneath it will not reattach. Onycholysis only goes away after new nail has replaced the affected area. It takes four to six months for a fingernail to fully regrow, and twice as long for toenails. Some nail problems are difficult to cure and may affect the nail appearance permanently.

How can Onycholysis be Prevented?

Some preventive measures will make Onycholysis less likely to occur:

  • Cut nails to a comfortable length so that they will be less likely to endure repeated trauma from tapping in everyday use.
  • Wear rubber gloves to avoid repetitive immersion in water. Nails expand after they are exposed to moisture and then shrink while drying, a cycle that over time can make them brittle. Keeping your nails dry also will help prevent fungal infections.
  • Avoid frequent exposure to harsh chemicals, such as nail polish remover.