Author: Vanessa Ngan, Staff Writer, 2003.

What is onycholysis?

Onycholysis is a common nail disorder. It is the loosening or separation of a fingernail or toenail from its nail bed. It usually starts at the tip of the nail and progresses back.

What causes onycholysis?

Many things may cause onycholysis. Some of the most common causes are:

Other causes of onycholysis are shown in the following table.

Skin disease Psoriasis, dermatitis and less often, pemphigus vulgaris, porphyria cutanea tarda and others
Internal disease (uncommon) Amyloid and multiple myeloma, anaemia (iron deficiency), diabetes mellitus, erythropoietic porphyria, hyperhidrosis, hyperthyroidism, hypothyroidism, impaired peripheral circulation, leprosy, pellagra, psoriatic arthritis, Reiter syndrome, sarcoidosis, scleroderma, yellow nail syndrome due to chronic lung or sinus disease
Other Congenital onycholysis, hereditary partial onycholysis, idiopathic acquired onycholysis, hereditary distal onycholysis, foreign body implantation, contact allergy to nail glue (acrylate)

Who gets onycholysis and how is it diagnosed?

People of all ages, sex and race can get onycholysis, although it is more frequently seen in female adults.

Because so many things can cause onycholysis, your doctor may examine you to check for other skin conditions or medical problems such as thyroid disease. If a fungal infection is suspected, your doctor may clip the nail and scrape a sample of tissue from beneath the nail plate for laboratory testing.

What are the signs and symptoms of onycholysis?

What is the treatment for onycholysis?

Treatment of onycholysis depends on the cause of the problem. Eliminating or correcting the predisposing cause is the best treatment. For example, treatment of hyperthyroidism will allow the nails to regrow normally and nail infections can be treated with antimicrobials.

The portion of nail that has separated will not reattach to the nail bed and you will have to wait until the nail is fully regrown for the condition to be completely gone. Fingernails take 4-6 months to fully regrow whilst toenails may take twice as long.

To prevent deterioration or recurrence of onycholysis after it has cleared up:

Related information

Email Newsletter

Would you like to receive our dermatology updates by email?


Submit your images

We're seeking high-quality photos of skin diseases.  


Machine diagnosis

Watch DermNet's proposal to create a 'Skin Disease Image Recognition Tool' - winner of the 2017 'Clinicians' Challenge Active Award' by the NZ Ministry of Health and HiNZ.

Subscribe to our mailing list

* indicates required
DermNet NZ Newsletter