Chew, bite, nibble, scratch, itch, protect, play, pick, poke, flaunt …tiny they seem but serve much purpose. Inconspicuous otherwise but in absence, nails are nothing but human claws made up of protein called ‘Keratin’. Sure they don’t hurt even as you shape them or clip them but they definitely spell what hurts your insides. While toe nails grow at a slow pace and take about 12 to 18 months to regrow completely; fingernails grow faster such that each of your finger has a brand new nail every 3 to 6 months. Hence fingernails are powerful health indicators of an early onset of disease and ill health.
Healthy nails have even, smooth texture and consistent colour throughout. The nail bed is pink as it has rich blood circulation. Nail diseases and deformities are called onychosis .As nails change shape, texture and color, here is how one can determine underlying health problems.
Changes in Nail texture
Brittle nails (Onychoschizia)
Splitting, easily breakable, thin nails. Weak dry nails can be a result of iron deficiency, thyroid diseases or impaired kidney function. Split, fray nails maybe due to psoriasis or lack of protein and vitamin C in diet. If toe nails are strong and healthy but the fingernails are brittle generally an external factor is a cause.
Constant exposure to water, soap detergents causes soft nails that bend and chip easily .Over using the nail polish remover ‘acetone’ also makes the nails brittle and dull.
Uneven, bumpy nails– Very thin, thick nails as also bumpy uneven nails are seen when the nail bed does not receive adequate blood circulation. Loss of optimum circulation at times maybe due to nail bed infection, finger trauma or certain heart and lung diseases. Pitting nails are associated with psoriatic skin disease.
Vertical ridges and white spots
Are fairly common with advanced age and do not pinpoint any significant clues.
As per naturopathy branch of medicine white spots indicate digestive ailments due to high intake of sugars and refined flour.
Changes in Nail Shape
Curved nails with bulging nail beds is called clubbing.
The nails are more convex in shape. Clubbing does indicated serious and chronic health problems caused by lack of oxygen in heart and lung disorders like heart failure, Asthma.
Spooning of nails (koilonychia) –
Spoon shaped concave nails are a hall mark sign of iron deficiency anemia (low hemoglobin) which may or may not be associated with vitamin B12 deficiency.
Ram’s horn nail (onychogryposis)
Thickened curved nail that may be caused due to long term neglect, might be hereditary or due to chronic long standing diabetes. The great toe nail is commonly affected and trimming the thick, grooved nail is painful as it grows inwards very close to the skin.
Hangnails (stepmother’s blessing)-Torn hanging small piece of skin near fingernails or toenails. Painful when tried to remove. Frequent hangnails suggest poor nutrition and digestive ailments
Changes in Nail Color
Yellow nails– Yellowish discoloration of a single finger or toe nail is suggestive of local fungal infection and subsides once treated for the same. Frank yellowish thickening in all the nails is suggestive of systemic illness. Primarily thyroid or chronic and infective lung diseases like bronchiectasis (permanent enlargement airways of lung), pleural effusion (fluid accumulation between membranes covering the lungs) or chronic sinusitis.
Discolored black nails– Blackish, brown stained nails maybe seen in chronic smokers with onset of lung diseases. Dark black lines with increasing discoloration should be immediately investigated as they may be suggestive of Melanoma a very dangerous form of skin cancer.
Pale nails– Dull, whitish nails indicate severe anemia, malnourishment and liver disorders. External factors like excessive exposure to chemicals, overdoing pedicures and manicures strip off the protective nail cuticle making them pale and rough.
Greenish nail syndrome (Chloronychia)
Commonly caused due to bacterial infection of the nail bed. Pseudomonas bacteria that resides in moist areas like bath sponges, Jacuzzi or traumatic nail when exposed to continuous dampness harbors the infection. Gardeners, plumbers, housewives are more prone to chloronychia.
Bluish nails– Shiny bluish nails with puffed fingers indicate chronic oxygen deprivation at high altitude or due to more serious impairment of heart, lung or kidney functioning. Sudden Bluish discoloration is definitive in certain catastrophic medical emergencies like carbon monoxide poisoning, respiratory distress and choking, chemical burns.
You can be your own nail doctor if you take a closer look and understand the subtle changes. However along with nail changes certain serious illnesses will always have systemic symptoms so beware of false alarms. Nail and the nail bed is also commonly prone to changes due to dietary vitamin and mineral deficiencies, traumatic breakage or detachment , traumatic bleeding below the surface, fungal infections , nibbling of hangnails ,discoloration due to use of nail paints etc. Appropriate disease specific intervention, Balanced diet, pampering your nails periodically by indulging in good manicure and pedicures and always keeping them trimmed and clean will ensure you have nailed the art of keeping your nails happy forever.
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