One of the leading causes associated with the loss of fingernails and-or toenails is a disease called onychomadesis.(1) The main symptoms are a crusting and scaling at the nail base that gradually lead to the weakening of the cutaneous membranes. One patient diagnosed, a 40-year-old bricklayer, had lost eight of ten fingernails. Onychomadesis has also been linked to febrile ailments, psoriasis, Stevens-Johnson syndrome, and bullous skin disorders.
Another example of a nail-loss sufferer involved a 29-year-old woman who was of course not just healthier and younger, but also not involved in a profession that requires high-impact stress on the fingernails.(2) The condition appeared suddenly at age 26 and progressed over the next few years. Eventually, she had lost both thumb nails while the rest of her fingernails had become brown and yellow.
Another leading cause of lost nails is psoriasis.(3) For example, in the United Kingdom, this condition affects roughly 150,000 people, any number of whom can experience the related condition of nail deterioration and loss.
Nail psoriasis begins with a yellow-red discoloration of the skin underneath the nail. From there, patients can experience pitting, white flakes, and—strangely–a thickening of the fingernail(s). At the moment, there is no proven cure-all for nail psoriasis. Some Vitamin D solutions are given to sufferers to help the nail re-bond to the base. Usually, these solutions are applied twice daily to the affected areas.
More dramatically, steroids are sometimes used to treat the condition. Triamcinolone for example is injected directly into the nailfolds. Beyond the pain, results are erratic. Cyclosporin, a drug used by patients who have had trouble accepting kidney transplants, is also sometimes used to treat nail psoriasis. Doctors have unfortunately found that any stronger, steroid-like drug comes with some sort of downside. In the case of the anti-cancer drug methotrexate, the side effects make it invalid for treatment of something lesser like nail loss.
(1) John Hopkins Medical School – Onychomadesis, Retrieved October 18, 2011, from http://dermatlas.med.jhmi.edu/derm/result.cfm?Diagnosis=1789959056
(2) National Institutes of Health – Nail Atrophy, Retrieved October 18, 2011 from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2076508/?page=1
(3) Daily Mail – “My Nails Keep Falling Off, What Can I Do?”, March 1, 2010, Retrieved October 18, 2011 from http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-1254685/Ask-doctor-My-nails-falling–I-do.html