It is commonly believed that the state of a person’s fingernails reveals a lot about their health.
Therefore, any changes in the appearance and structure of their nails may indicate an underlying medical condition. And the possibilities are endless.
As such, seeing your baby lose nails can be quite distressing and frightening, to say the least.
So, what does it say about their health, huh?
Well, perhaps it is not as disastrous as it may seem.
Let’s find out the 6 common reasons your baby’s fingernails may be falling off.
Why Are My Baby’s Fingernails Falling Off?
Peeling off fingernails is a condition called onychomadesis. It can affect babies and children at any age. And is usually just a cosmetic problem rather than a severe medical disorder. Typically, nail shedding in babies is a delayed side effect of a viral infection. The most common amongst this age group is hand, foot, and mouth disease. Although this symptom may also be associated with chickenpox, Kawasaki disease, Covid-19, and other infections that cause a high fever. Another possible reason for nails falling off is physical trauma to the affected finger or fungal infection linked to nail sucking.
So, What Is Onychomadesis?
Onychomadesis is the condition of the nails that causes the separation of the nail plate from the nail matrix (a tissue that generates new cells that become the nail plate).
This separation happens when there is a sudden stoppage of nail growth which is only temporary. The new nails should start growing back within a few weeks from that, thankfully.
This condition is quite common in children of any age, really. Especially those who have recently suffered from a viral infection.
Onychomadesis is a mild condition, usually self-limited, requiring no treatment.
Also, the good news is that babies don’t seem bothered by nail loss, and the exposed flesh is not tender or painful.
Now, there are several reasons why the nail growth process may have been disturbed that caused the nails to detach.
It may be due to nail injury, nutritional deficiencies, high fever, viral infection, chemotherapy, or drug ingestion.
So, here are the most common illnesses linked to nails falling off in babies.
1. Hand, Foot, And Mouth Disease (HFMD)
HFMD is a very contagious disease caused by the Coxsackie virus.
Considering that HFMD is quite a popular viral infection amongst tiny tots, this can be one of the likely explanations for peeling fingernails. And on rare occasions, you may notice the toenails shedding.
Although it may not be the first thing that springs to mind to connect peeling nails with HFMD.
That’s because peeling fingernails are a delayed complication of this illness.
But it can be quite common and may appear around 6 weeks after the infection.
It is worth noting that no pain or swelling of the fingers (or toes) is present during nail shedding, which is quite comforting.
Another surprising fact is that the fingers affected by onychomadesis are not necessarily the same fingers affected by HFMD.
Due to this and the fact that onychomadesis usually occurs weeks after the illness, the association between nail shedding and HFMD is often overlooked.
Luckily for you – you know this now.
So, to help your doctor with an accurate diagnosis of your baby’s illness, it is helpful to mention all the recent viral infections your baby has experienced.
2. Viral Infection
Many other viruses may cause nail shedding other than the one associated with hand, foot, and mouth disease.
- Researchers have found that varicella infection (chickenpox) also causes onychomycosis due to the damage to the nail matrix. Similar to HFMD, nail shedding can occur a few weeks after the chickenpox infection. This makes the connection between chickenpox and nail loss also rather hard. So, bare that in mind if your little one recently had chickenpox, and now her nails are falling off!
- Covid-19 – yep indeed. Based on recent information, the infamous virus may cause several abnormalities in nails, including discolouration, Beau’s lines development, and nail shedding.
This new phenomenon even got a name – “Covid nails”. Like the other viruses, changes in nail appearance won’t take place immediately after infection but will be delayed by a few weeks.
3. Kawasaki Disease
Although the majority of symptoms of Kawasaki Disease are similar to those of bacterial or viral infections, it is not contagious but genetically inherited.
Therefore, I listed it under a separate heading.
One of the typical symptoms of Kawasaki disease is swelling and tenderness of the hands and feet.
This may also cause severe nail changes, including nail separation from the matrix and nail shedding.
So, if your baby has been diagnosed with Kawasaki disease and experiences nail separation – then that’s likely the reason.
4. High Fever
There is strong evidence that nail shedding may occur as a result of a high fever that was present at least for a few days.
So, what happens is that fever disrupts the normal nail growth cycle. Basically, the nails stop growing abruptly because the body is fighting the infection. And all energy is focused on supporting the high-priority organs rather than the less vital extremities. As a result, the nails stop growing temporarily.
Following the infection, the nails usually begin to grow again. However, a transverse groove called Beau’s line may develop. And in more severe cases, when Beau’s line reaches its maximum depth, it may result in nail shedding.
5. Onychomycosis in Finger-Sucking Babies
Many babies enjoy sucking on their fingers, usually their thumbs. It is indeed a form of emotional regulation. In fact, it is estimated that 30% of infants continue to do so post their first birthday!
So, is your baby sucking her finger all the time?
If so, yep, finger-sucking may lead to the development of a fungal infection that can result in nail shedding.
Onychomycosis – fungal nail infection is caused by different yeast species, most commonly candida.
Although it is a rare condition in infancy, it can actually occur in fingers-sucking babies.
Unfortunately, finger-sucking exposes the skin around the nail to an excessive quantity of saliva. Because saliva has alkaline properties, it may cause irritation and inflammation of the delicate skin around the finger, cuticle, and nail plate. Because of that, bacteria and fungi can invade and colonize this moistened area, likely unprotected by the damaged cuticle.
Therefore, the fungal infection is not only causing skin inflammation but may also damage the nail matrix, which will result in falling off nails.
But, fungal infection is not the only problem caused by finger sucking. See the below video…
Why and when does Thumb Sucking become an issue?
6. Physical Trauma
Considering the fact that a baby’s fingers are thin and fragile, they may be prone to breakage. These can be caused by external trauma to fingernails and toenails.
The most common physical trauma affecting nails occurs because of poorly fitted shoes (affecting toenails, obviously), door crush injury or even objects falling on the nail, and any other activity that presses on the nail can cause a detachment of the nail plate from the nail bed.
Final Few Lines
There you have it.
The 6 most common reasons why your little tot’s fingernail may be shedding.
Seeing your baby lose their nails may feel frightening at first, but these nails will grow back.
And most importantly – your baby shouldn’t experience any discomfort related to exposed flesh under the nail (phew).
So, if your little one suffered from a viral infection, Kawasaki disease, high fever, experienced physical trauma, or perhaps is constantly sucking on their finger – then that may be the reason for the peeling nails.