Let Your Nails Tell You About Your General Health and Wellbeing

People often wonder why when you go in for a surgical procedure, the nurse requests that you have no nailpolish on any of your nails. This enables the anesthesiologist to see immediately of you are oxygen deprived if they turn blueish-grey. Our finger and toe nails are very effective windows to our general healthy and well-being and should be taken special note of.

NAIL GROWTH: Everyone experiences different speeds of nail growth. Our nails are like our hair growth – sometimes quick, other times slow. This speed depends on several factors. Nails often grow faster in summer than winter. Men’s nails tend to grow more quickly than women’s, except possibly during pregnancy and old age. Sometimes the nails on a person’s dominant hand (hand most used) grow faster. The growth rate of fingernails often also outpaces that of the toenails. On average, fingernails grow 2 to 3 millimeters in one month, and toenails grow 1 millimeter per month. Disease, hormone imbalance, and aging can all slow nail growth. If you notice a sudden or even gradual change in this rate and its not connected to your medical condition at the time – its best to consult your doctor.

COMMON NAIL DISORDERS: While uncommon in children and young people, nail disorders affect a large number of older and aging adults. As we age, our nails thicken and become more susceptible to fungal nail infections. Circulatory problems and use of medications, which also tend to increase as we age, raise the risk of developing an unusual nail condition.

Common nail conditions that should be taken special note of include:

WHITE SPOTS

Most often caused by mild trauma, such as catching one’s finger in a door. Small spots appear when the base of the nail is injured. These white spots are very common, and will eventually grow out, and is no cause for concern. But if you suddenly see a number of white spots and do not remember injuring your nail or the white spots do not seem to grow out, be sure to make an appointment to see a dermatologist. White spots also can indicate an infection or other medical condition.

SPLINTER HEMORRHAGES

Appearing as a red to reddish-brown fine, vertical line that resembles a splinter beneath the nail.This can happen when blood vessels in the nail bed are damaged. The most common cause is nail injury. Certain medications and medical conditions also can cause a splinter hemorrhage, so these should be examined by a dermatologist if you don’t have any recollection of injuring your nails.

INGROWN TOENAIL

This common nail disorder happens when the corner of the nail curves downward into the skin, causing discomfort and pain. The big toenails are particularly vulnerable. Improper nail trimming, tight shoes, or a poor stance can lead to this common nail problem. Ingrown nails may be painful and sometimes lead to infection. Proper treatment by a podiatrist or pedicurist can avoid problems.

DARK SPOTS OR STREAKS

If a dark spot or streak appears on any nail, and is not the result of an injury, it must be examined by a dermatologist. This could be melanoma, the most lethal form of skin cancer. Psoriasis can also affect the nails

While most minor nail injuries heal without treatment, severe nail disorders require medical care. The following nail problems should be reported to a dermatologist immediately:

  • Change in the color or shape of a nail – indicating a fungal growth under the nailbed
  • Swollen skin or pain around a nail
  • White or black line visible in a nail
  • Dents or ridges in a nail

The nails can reveal much about your overall health and many diseases and serious conditions can be detected by noting changes in your nails. The most common serious health conditions that the nails may be revealing could include:

Liver Diseases – White nails

Kidney Diseases – Half of nail is pink, half is white

Heart Conditions – Nail bed is red

Lung Diseases – Yellowing and thickening of the nail and slowed growth rate

Anemia – Pale nail beds

Diabetes – Yellowish nails, with a slight blush at the base

If you note any of these unusual changes in your nails, be sure to consult a specialist immediately!

NAIL CARE TIPS TO AVOID DISORDERS:

Many nail disorders result from poor nail care, so developing good nail habits can help. To keep your nails healthy, dermatologists recommend:

1. Keep nails clean and dry. This helps prevent bacteria and other infectious organisms from collecting under the nail.

2. Cut nails straight across, rounding them slightly with a nail file at the tips for greatest strength. Be sure to use clean sharp nail scissors, sterilized nail clippers or a good glass crystal nail file to make sure you are using bacteria-free equipment. Filing the nails into points weakens them.

3. Keep nails shaped and free of snags by filing with a “fine” textured glass crystal file.

4. Avoid biting fingernails, and never remove the cuticle.

5. Trim toenails regularly to keep them short. This minimizes trauma and injury.

6. Soak feet in warm salt water (one teaspoon of salt per pint of water) for five to 10 minutes when toenails are thick and difficult to cut, then apply urea or lactic acid cream. This softens the nails, making them easier to trim.

7. Avoid “digging-out” ingrown toenails, especially if they are already infected and sore. See a dermatologist or podiatrist for treatment.

8. Wear shoes that fit properly and alternate pairs.

9. Report any nail irregularities to your dermatologist. Nail changes, swelling, and pain could signal a serious problem.

10. Be especially vigilant of nail problems if you have diabetes or poor circulation. At the first sign of a problem, see a dermatologist.

Our nails have a myriad of uses… they protect and support the tissues in our fingers and toes. Having nails allows us to scratch an itch, pick a sore or scratch off a sticker! A simple look at the nails can warn a doctor of an underlying medical condition, such as heart disease or diabetes. An observant physician will always take a look at the condition of your nails during a physical examination.

Let your nails tell you how healthy you are at all times!