Your fingernails are comprised of the nail plate, the hardened area of keratin typically thought of as the fingernail. The nail plate rests on the skin of the nail bed and is surrounded on three sides by nail folds. It is held in place by a wedge of skin at the base of the nail known as the cuticle. These small but dynamic body parts protect your fingertips, allow for easier grasping and maneuvering, and allow you to scratch an itch. Your fingernails can also provide clues to your health and proper body functions. Watch out for the following changes in your nails and be aware of what these changes can signify.
8. Vertical Ridges
Vertical ridges are lines that run up and down the nail from the tip to the base. These ridges can develop as a normal part of aging. As your body ages, it becomes more difficult to maintain hydration, and your nails, as well as your skin, can show signs of dryness. To keep your fingernails well hydrated, be sure to drink plenty of water. When applying hand cream, rub the moisturizer into your fingernails as well as into your skin. Include fresh fruits and vegetables in your diet. The biotin found in avocados, eggs, cauliflower, and fruits may help nourish and strengthen your fingernails.
7. Horizontal Ridges
Horizontal ridges, known as Beau’s lines, are lines that run from side to side across your fingernails. These lines may be signs of a previous injury to the nail bed, or they may be signs of an underlying problem. Horizontal nail ridges may indicate the presence of thyroid disease. The thyroid gland is responsible for producing hormones that regulate many body functions, including the integrity of the skin epidermis. Horizontal ridges may also be a symptom of psoriasis, a condition in which the skin develops rough, scaly patches. The American Academy of Dermatology lists laser treatments, corticosteroids, and a vitamin D medication as interventions for nail psoriasis.
6. Split Fingernails
Unexplained split fingernails are often a cause of alarm. The American Osteopathic College of Dermatology defines onychoschizia as split, brittle, soft or thin nails. This condition is more commonly seen in women than in men. Split fingernails are not generally triggered by an underlying medical condition, although they can be triggered by a vitamin D deficiency. To protect your nails and prevent them from splitting, pull on a pair of cotton-lined rubber gloves when washing dishes or performing household chores. Avoid the overuse of nail polishes and polish removers, and consume a diet rich in eggs, fish, and vitamin D-fortified cereals.
5. Yellow Nails
Fingernails can turn a yellowish hue when nail polishes have been worn for a long period of time. Your nails can also turn yellow if you are a chronic smoker. Sometimes yellow fingernails can indicate an underlying medical problem. A fungal infection of the nail bed can often present as thick, hardened, yellowing nails. A lack of oxygen created by chronic bronchial infection may also cause fingernails to turn yellow. Liver or kidney disease can also result in the yellowing of fingernails. If you do not use nail polish and have noticed a sudden change in the color of your nails, it may be wise to consult your physician to see if this change is caused by a medical condition.
4. Other Color Changes to Fingernails
The American Academy of Dermatology provides a chart of color changes to the nail plate or nail bed that may indicate disease. Blue nails can signal a lack of oxygen in your blood supply. White nails can be a sign of liver disease or diabetes. Pale nails may be attributed to an iron deficiency. Nails that are half white and half pink may be a sign of kidney disease. Dusky red half moons at the base of the fingernail can be a warning sign for several conditions. These include lupus, heart disease, arthritis, alopecia areata, and dermatomyositis (inflammation of the skin and connective tissue). Poisoning may show up in your fingernails as blue half moons.
3. Clubbed Nails
Nail clubbing, or digital clubbing, is a condition that gradually occurs over a number of years. The tips of the fingers progressively become enlarged. As the fingertips change in shape, the fingernails adapt and begin to curve over the fingertips. This condition may occur due to low levels of oxygen in the blood, leading to decreased oxygen supply to the fingertips. Therefore, clubbed nails may indicate lung disease. Clubbed nails may also be a sign of diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease, liver disease, AIDS, and heart disease. Treatment for nail clubbing will depend on the underlying condition.
2. Pitted Nails
Nail pitting refers to tiny dents or craters in the surface of the nail plate. This condition can be a sign of autoimmune disorders such as psoriasis or alopecia areata. Alopecia areata is a skin condition in which your immune system attacks healthy hair follicles, resulting in hair loss. Reiter’s syndrome is another condition that may cause pitted nails. Reiter’s syndrome is reactive arthritis, a rare disorder in which infections in parts of your body such as the gastrointestinal or urinary tracts trigger arthritis in your joints. In addition to joint pain, this condition can cause inflammation of muscles and tendons, swollen fingers and toes, and skin problems.
1. Spoon Nails
The term spoon nails refers to nails in which the edges of the nails have lifted up from the nail bed. This results in fingernails that look like little cups or scoops. Spoon nails, or koilonychia, may be indicators of iron deficiency, anemia, heart disease, or hypothyroidism. Iron is necessary for energy, growth, immunity, red blood cell formation, and wound healing. Beans, dark green vegetables, meats, and poultry are good sources of this essential nutrient. Whole grains and fortified breads and cereals also contain the iron your body needs.