What to Do When Your Toenail Is Falling Off

Broken toenails are common. One can happen when you accidentally stub your toe or drop something heavy on your foot.

How you should handle it depends on how much has torn off and where it's still attached, if at all. Getting the right treatment promptly can help your nail grow back normally.

What You Can Do

You can care for a ripped toenail at home if:

  • The tear isn't too far down toward your foot, and the nail is still attached to the nail bed.
  • Any bleeding stops quickly.
  • You have little, if any, blood pooling under the remaining nail (it will look like a blue-black spot), and it doesn't hurt much.
  • The toe itself looks normal.

If it's painful, soak your toe in cold water for 20 minutes.

Trim off the loose part so that it won't catch on clothes, carpeting, or anything else and rip more. Use a clean pair of scissors or nail clippers and snip along the line of the tear to make an even edge. If the nail has cracked off from side to side -- without leaving a rough edge -- you can skip the trimming.

Protect any exposed part of the nail bed for 7 to 10 days until this skin hardens and isn't sensitive anymore. Coat the area with antibiotic ointment and top with a nonstick bandage. Change the bandage every day and whenever it gets wet. (If any part gets stuck, soak it under warm running water until it slips off.)

For the first couple of days, ease any pain and swelling by propping up your foot. Use pillows so that it's above the level of your heart. Apply an ice pack wrapped in a thin towel for no more than 20 minutes every 3 to 6 hours as needed.

Your usual over-the-counter pain reliever should help, too. An NSAID like ibuprofen or naproxen may also keep the swelling down.

Wear well-fitting sandals if closed-toe shoes hurt.

Get Medical Help

If you aren't comfortable tending to the nail yourself or think the damage is serious, call your doctor or a podiatrist. Go to an urgent care center or emergency room when:

  • The tear is too far down for you to trim.
  • The base or sides of the nail are pulling away or already detached from the nail bed or nail folds.
  • The toenail has ripped off. (The nail bed may look pearly, as though the nail is still there, even though it's completely off.) Bring the nail with you.
  • You have a deep cut that might need stitches.
  • You have a lot of pain or swelling. Your toe might throb or feel tight.
  • The toe is crooked or mangled.
  • You see blood pooling under 1/4 or more of the remaining nail.

Continued

A doctor can numb the area, stop any bleeding, and treat the nail. That could include cleaning, trimming, and putting the nail back in place if it's detached but in good condition. Your nail, or an artificial one, will protect the nail bed, and it's more comfortable than a bandage.

Another thing your doctor could do is relieve pressure from blood pooling under the nail. To help avoid infection, they may give you antibiotics and possibly a tetanus booster shot.

You might need an X-ray. If you've broken a bone in the toe, they may tape it to the next toe for support while it heals.

What Not to Do

If your nail is partly detached, don't pull off the rest. See a doctor.

Don't wrap the exposed nail bed with plain gauze or a regular adhesive bandage. These will stick, and later it will be both difficult and painful to change the dressing.

Try not to fuss at it. Don't pick at the old (or replacement) nail as the new one appears, if one does. It may take a year or more for a new nail to fully grow back, and it may be deformed.

When to Call Your Doctor

Be on the lookout for any sign of infection, especially if you have diabetes or another condition that causes slow healing:

  • Pain gets worse or lasts for more than a couple of days
  • Fever
  • Pus
  • Bleeding
  • More redness or swelling around the toe or spreading into your foot

Prevent Broken Toenails

A long toenail or a rough edge can catch on the corner of a door or thick carpet, so keep nails trimmed straight across.

Constant pressure, like a hammertoe that rubs against the inside of your shoe, can lead to a detached toenail. See a podiatrist regularly if you have any foot problems.

A fungal infection, an allergy to a nail product ingredient, psoriasis, and diseases that cause poor circulation, such as Raynaud's, can lead to your toenail breaking off or crumbling. Follow your doctor's instructions to manage these issues and lower the odds of related problems.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Stephanie S. Gardner, MD on September 07, 2019

Sources

SOURCES:

Podiatry Today: "How To Address Nail Bed Injuries."

National Center for Emergency Medicine Informatics: "10.04 Finger or toenail avulsion," "10.07 Subungual Hematoma."

Montreal Children's Hospital: "Finger and Toe Injuries."

Seattle Children's Hospital: "Toe Injury."

Baylor Scott and White Health, McLane Children's: "Nail Bed Injury."

Fairview Health Services: "Patient information: Detached Fingernail or Toenail."

Go Ask Alice!, Columbia University: "Why is my toenail falling off?"

NHS Choices: "Nail abnormalities."

American Family Physician: "Nail Abnormalities: Clues to Systemic Disease."

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