Nail problems

Nail problems are not 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:

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

Things you can do to look after your nails

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


  • wear rubber gloves if your hands are often in water or you regularly use cleaning products

  • clean your nails with a soft nailbrush

  • apply hand cream to your nails and fingertips regularly

  • trim your nails regularly (it may help to cut them after a shower or bath)

  • cut injured, loose nails back to where they are still attached, so they do not bend or catch on objects


  • do not cut your nails down the edges, and only trim straight across the top to help avoid an ingrown toenail

  • do not clean under your nails with sharp objects

  • do not wear shoes that pinch your toes, especially when exercising

  • do not bite or pick your nails or the skin around them

  • do not ignore fungal infections on your skin, such as athlete's foot

Non-urgent advice: See a GP if:

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

See a podiatrist if:

  • your nails are too tough to cut or you cannot reach them

Some GPs may be able to refer you to a footcare specialist (podiatrist). You can also pay to see a podiatrist privately.

Causes of nail problems

Most nail problems are caused by:

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

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

See pictures of nails that have changed shape
A close-up of a person’s thumbnail. There is a wide, curved groove along the middle of the nail, making it look spoon-shaped.
Spoon-shaped nails that curve inwards (koilonychia) can be a sign of iron-deficiency anaemia.
A close-up of a fingernail in a person with psoriasis. The nail has several small pits and dents in it.
Small dents or pits in your nails can be a sign of nail psoriasis, eczema or alopecia.
A close-up of 3 fingernails. The nails have deep lines or grooves across them.
Deep lines or grooves across your fingernails (Beau's lines) may happen when you're ill but should grow out.
A close-up of 4 clubbed fingernails. The nails have grown very large and curve over the end of the fingers, covering the fingertips.
Fingernails curving over rounded fingertips (clubbing) can be a sign of many serious, long-term conditions.

Self-refer to a podiatrist

If you have nail problems, you might be able to refer yourself directly to a podiatrist without seeing a GP.

To find out if there are any services in your area:

  • ask the reception staff at your GP surgery
  • check your GP surgery's website
  • contact your integrated care board (ICB) – find your local ICB
  • search online for NHS podiatrists near you

Page last reviewed: 12 March 2024
Next review due: 12 March 2027