Onychauxis is the name of a condition in which a person's fingernails or toenails start growing abnormally thick and begin to turn yellow. Contrary to popular belief, onychauxis is not a form of toenail fungus and the nails grow thick without the presence of deformity.
Onychauxis is characterized by an abnormal thickening of the nail plate on either the fingers or toes. Sometimes the nail turns white or yellow and the edges begin falling off. Because the thick nail can be difficult to trim, people oftentimes avoid cutting it, leaving it to grow in a curled shape.
Left untreated, affected nails may begin to turn white, yellow, red or black.
Cases of onychauxis are sometimes hereditary, but most cases are caused by trauma or underlying health conditions like acromegaly (a hormonal disorder), Darier’s disease, diabetes, impaired circulation, infection, pityriasis rubra pilaris or psoriasis. The condition is more commonly seen in older adults than in young adults and children.
On its own, onychauxis is not a dangerous condition and usually presents no cause for concern or worry. However, as the condition can be embarrassing (especially when present on the fingernails), most people elect to keep the nails properly trimmed. This not only helps give a neat appearance to the thickened nail but also can help alleviate any pain associated with the condition. Some people opt to paint the nails with clear nail polish, which can help hide the condition.
Many cases of onychauxis are caused by an underlying health condition, and most people will start growing normal nails again once the underlying condition is managed or cured. In the meantime, patients with onychauxis can help ease discomfort by wearing comfortable shoes with wide toe boxes, modifying their diet to include more nutrient-rich foods and engaging in exercise to help boost blood circulation.
In extreme cases, onychauxis may require partial or complete removal of the thickened nail. This is only an option when the nail becomes so thick, it creates severe pain and is nearly impossible to keep trimmed.