Peeling Nails or Nails Falling Off? Onychomadesis after Hand, Foot, and Mouth in Kids 198

First, my 6 year old lost a finger nail. I thought maybe he squished it or snagged it on something and just said nothing because he’s a tough boy. The next day, the nurse called me to ask if I knew about his finger. I assumed it was the same one and said yes, but when he got home, I found he was missing yet another nail. The whole thing was just gone. I assumed maybe he had brittle nails for some reason—iron deficiency maybe—and put him on a multi-vitamin. Fast forward about 3 days, my 2 year old’s entire big toe nail just falls off. No blood, no pain, it was just gone, like his nail peeled off. I looked at all three kids, and they all had nails peeling off! Alright, now I was freaked out. What the hell was happening? Was it a fungus? Why were my kid’s nails falling off?
Peeling Nails Nails Falling Off shedding nails Onychomadesis hand foot and mouth
Well, now we have to go back in time, to about a month ago, when my entire household had a bad case of hand, foot, and mouth. As it turns out, peeling nails, nail shedding, or nail loss, also known as Onychomadesis, is a little known complication of hand, foot, and mouth typically presenting about 3 to 4 weeks after infection, but may occur anywhere from 1 to 10 weeks after.

What is Onychomadesis and why does it happen?

Onychomadesis is a fancy medical word for the occurrence of peeling nails which may break or fall off completely shedding at the nail bed. You may notice the nail turns white before falling off, and there may or may not be a new nail beginning to grow in below it. Onychomadesis is caused by a temporary stop or slowing in nail growth, in this case, the hand, foot, and mouth virus itself interrupts nail growth so as the nail grows up and out, there is a gap, so to speak, in the nail bed, which causes the nail above it to fall off. In minor causes, only slight indention or lines on the nails may be seen. As hand, foot, and mouth primarily attacks the feet and hands, it makes sense that it may also affect the nail bed—this just certainly was not something I had ever heard of and it did not happen the first time my kids had hand, foot, and mouth. It’s suggested that only certain strains of hand, foot, and mouth cause peeling nails, shedding or nails falling off.

What do I do if my kid has peeling nails or nails falling off?

Yeah, there’s some horror movie gross-out with this one, seriously, it is disturbing, but all my kids communicate well, and they all said that it did not hurt. In fact, when I removed the remainder of one nail falling off, my 2 year old didn’t even flinch. So while peeling nails shedding off may look painful and very yucky, it likely isn’t causing your child pain. Your best bet is to simply keep your child’s hands clean and leave them alone. New nails will grow in and rather quickly actually. The condition is not permanent, so if it keeps happening, you should definitely speak with your pediatrician. There are other causes of nail peeling, nails falling off, or nail shedding, but honestly, they are quite uncommon. Even fungal infections tend to only damage nails, not make them just sort of fall off.

Anyway, I will say this whole experience was rather educational. The wonderful thing about kids—and even crappy situations like lost nails in kids—is that you learn something new everyday.

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198 thoughts on “Peeling Nails or Nails Falling Off? Onychomadesis after Hand, Foot, and Mouth in Kids

  • theoneontheleft

    Same here! Thank you! My DD had a case that kept her out for a week at the end of school. Within the last two weeks, her nails have been falling off. Now I know why. I really appreciate you looking into this!

  • Steph

    Thank you so much!! Like other posters I was worried something was wrong with my 4 year kid’s health until I remembered he had hand foot and mouth about a month ago. I googled it and ended up here! I can relax this weekend now and watch it for awhile.

  • Staci Courtade

    Thank you (& your kids) for all the educational info. I was freaking out and worried that my 9 year old son may have cancer or something similar. We all, including myself, a 31 year old female, caught the hand, foot, mouth outbreak in this area. Until I read your article I had that gut-wrenching feeling only a Mother could have. I do have pictures very similar to the one above if you’d like to use them. Thank you again!
    -Staci , LA

    • unwirklich admin

      Sure, you’re welcome to post them in the comments. I’m sure others with the same issue wouldn’t mind more visual comparisons. I think lots of people find this post via image search. Thanks 🙂

  • Amal samhouri

    Thank you for your sharing about this grand doughter kid get mouth hand foot disease but i didn’t know they will develop nail falling, i was surprised and worried till i read your sharing informatio ..i felt calm .thank you again.

  • Lisa Wrenn

    Thank you so much. My daughter noticed her 18 month old sons nails peeling off about 3 weeks after a bad case of HFM, rushed him to the pediatricians office. Dr. had not heard of this but all of these comments have confirmed our diagnosis.

  • Staci

    My 4yr old daughter also had HMFD around her birthday in April, so when I see her nails like this now, I thought something very serious was happening. I am so relieved to know this is a common side effect and they likely will grow back. Thanks so much for sharing your story with us!

  • Paul

    Thank you so much for this post. We just got home from our paediatrician who apparently didn’t m ow about this. We even told her about our daughter having hand foot and mouth 3-4 weeks ago. Our daughter nails are identical to the picture you posted. We will be changing doctors.

  • Shantelle

    Thanks for the information my son is 6 and has had hand foot and mouth before but the second time was much worse an only today i noticed my son has more than one nail peeling from the root. I was scared but reading this has made me feel at ease