Nail problems aren’t usually caused by anything serious. Common nail problems include brittle, loose nails that may change colour or shape.

Your nails may change over time

It’s normal for nails to:

  • become thicker or break more easily (brittle) as you get older
  • become harder, softer or more brittle during pregnancy – they should be healthier within 6 months of having a baby
  • change colour, become loose and eventually fall off after an injury

Fingernails that fall off after an injury should grow back within 6 months. Toenails can take up to 18 months.

Things you can do yourself

There are some things you can do to help with common nail problems.

See a GP if:

  • you don’t know why a nail has changed shape, changed colour or fallen off
  • the skin around your nails has become sore, red, swollen and warm (paronychia) – this can be a sign of an infection or ingrown toenail

See a podiatrist if:

  • your nails are too tough to cut or you can’t reach them

Some GPs may be able to refer you for podiatry. You can also pay to see a podiatrist privately.

Find a podiatrist

Causes of nail problems

Most nail problems are caused by:

  • injuries or biting your nails
  • staining your nails – for example, by smoking or applying a lot of nail varnish
  • not regularly trimming your nails, or cutting them at an angle
  • your hands often being in water or cleaning products
  • a fungal nail infection

Nail problems can sometimes be a symptom of a more serious or long-term condition, such as:

But don’t self-diagnose – see a GP if you’re worried.

Some medicines can also cause nail problems. Check the side effects of any medicine you’re taking.