What is onychorrhexis?

Onychorrhexis is refers to a form of brittle nails, which can cause splitting vertically, or from top to bottom. Flaking or ridges may also be noted, and sometimes the nails fail to grow. This condition has numerous causes, and can be the result of certain diseases or can occur due to repeated exposure of the nails to water or chemicals. When diagnosed, treatment must address any underlying causative factors and also involves changing behavior that may be adding to the problem.

Brittle nails are not always onychorrhexis. Instead, they can have horizontal division, which is called onychoschisis . Alternatively, these two conditions can occur together. Both types of brittle nails can be recognized by the main symptoms of splitting, peeling, and poor growth.

The numerous causes associated with onychorrhexis include many diseases. Hypothyroidism or hypoparathyroidism is associated with brittle and scaly nails. Certain autoimmune conditions such as Sjogren's syndrome can cause very dry fingers, and psoriasis can also lead to onychorrhexis or onychoschisis. Alternatively, malnutrition, as could be the result of conditions such as anorexia, bulimia, or diseases of the gastrointestinal tract, are considered possible risk factors for brittle nails. Poor blood supply to the extremities from conditions such as Reynaud's, diabetes, or congestive heart failure are other possible explanations.

Sometimes onychorrhexis is not caused by a disease. Instead, it can result from exposure to harsh chemicals, like those in nail polish remover. Excessive exposure to water can also lead to brittle nails. For example, someone who works as a dishwasher could be prone to this condition. Repeatedly damaging your nails can also make them brittle.

When this condition is brought to a doctor's attention, they can look for underlying causes, if the onychorrhexis is obviously not occurring due to exposure to chemicals or water. It can be difficult to fully treat this problem without addressing disease-based causative factors. In addition to treating any medical condition or in the absence of physical illness, patients may be advised to change certain habits to help improve the problem.

These include minimizing hand washing or exposure to chemical irritants. After each hand wash, shower, or bath, patients should use moisturizers, which can help restore nail strength. If the condition is severe, people may also be advised to wear gloves during exposure to water and limit the use of soap when washing hands or showering. These measures can help improve the problem. Some doctors also recommend supplements that can also strengthen nails.

With careful attention to the doctor's instructions, this problem often improves. It may not get better if an underlying disorder is not addressed. For example, if the anorexic behavior continues, the constant state of malnutrition can lead to onychorrhexis that cannot be completely cured.

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