Fingernails and toenails can speak volumes about the state of your health. Inspecting them, a doctor can find important clues to many diseases . Nails themselves also are vulnerable to a host of common, albeit minor, problems splitting, hangnails, discoloration, ingrown toenails, and infections, among others. Healthy nails are smooth, shiny, and a somewhat translucent pink. (The visible nail plate is composed of keratin, a hard protein formed in the matrix, which is protected from infection and damage by the cuticle.) The pink color comes from blood vessels in the under lying nail bed; a bluish color indicates inadequate oxygen in the blood. A healthy fingernail grows about lis inch a month; toenails grow more slowly, taking two months to grow the same amount. In older people, the rate of growth slows and the nails become thinner and develop vertical ridges. Many nail problems are due to over use of, or sensitivity to, nail polish and remover, adhesives, and nail extenders. Overexposure to water and or harsh chemicals can also damage nails, causing them to chip, split, or break. Tight, pointed shoes can lead to ingrown toenails , as can improper cutting and injuries. Nail biting and overly aggressive removal of cuticle promote bacterial infections . In rare cases, the infection spreads from the rim of the nail plate into the tissue below.

Diagnostic Studies And Procedures

Simple nail problems usually can be diagnosed by inspection. If a fungal infection is suspected, a scraping from the nail will be sent for a laboratory culture to identify the organism. The appearance of such abnormalities as red streaks, discoloration, pitting, or an unusual shape calls for additional tests to detect a possible underlying disease.

Medical Treatments

Nail infections can be difficult to treat, and may require both topical and oral medication as per A bacterial infection that has begun to spread from the nail bed is often treated with broad-spectrum oral antibiotics. Pockets of pus should be lanced and drained. Fungal nail infections are very difficult to cure, though topical ointments and, in some cases, the oral antifungal medication griseofulvin may be prescribed Warts can form around the base and sides of a nail; most eventually disappear on their own. Those that persist can be removed by freezing with liquid nitrogen. Alternatively, daily applications of a topical combination of salicylic acid and lactic acid softens a wart, making it possible to peel it away.

Alternative Therapies

People who bite or pick their nails because of nervousness or stress may benefit from deep breathing, meditation, and other relaxation techniques.

Nutrition Therapy

Extra vitamin A and B complex are recommended to counter dry, brittle nails. Gelatin capsules have been promoted to strengthen nails, but there is no scientific evidence that they do. Calcium is said to make nails grow faster, but again, research has failed to substantiate the claim.

Self Treatment

Simple nail problems can be remedied by home care.

  • Wear gloves when doing household cleaning to keep nails dry and protect them from unnecessary wear and tear. After hand washing or bathing, gently rub a lotion or moisturizer that contains 10 percent urea into the nail plate and surrounding tissue.
  • Try to minimize the use of polishes and removers. Dermatologists stress that they cause dry, brittle nails. Check their ingredients and avoid those that contain formaldehyde, which is especially damaging. Remember, too, that chemicals in nail products can provoke allergic reactions in many people. Whenever possible, use hypoallergenic products, and even then, keep your fingers away from the face, neck, and eyelids until the substances are completely dry.
  • Limit use of artificial nails. All have hazards and drawbacks. Press on nails cause fewer problems than other types, but many women find them inconvenient as they can be worn for only a few hours at a time. Of the longer lasting nails, silk ones carry the lowest risk of infection and allergic reactions.
  • Resist the temptation to use your nails as a convenient tool.
  • Removing the cuticles with chemical solutions or with clippers deprives the nails of a tough and effective barrier against infection. Instead, dermatologists recommend pushing the cuticles back with an orange stick after soaking the fingers in warm water.

Other Causes of Nail Problems

The following nail abnormalities, may reflect serious underlying diseases: Unusual color Yellow, thick nails may be the result of chronic lung disease, a thyroid disorder, or a fungal infection. A bluish color indicates possible anemia or circulatory problems. PittingPsoriasis, eczema, and fungal infections are possible causes. Horizontal ridges, or beau’s lines, may result from a serious infection, malnutrition, or certain hormonal disorders. Streaks. Vertical red streaks might be caused by psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis, or high blood pressure. Horizontal white streaks may be caused by sickle cell disease, heart disease, Hodgkin’s disease, or kidney failure. Spoon shaped nails. Anemia or thyroid disease can produce depressed, spoon shaped nails. Clubbing. Nails that rise upward and curl around the finger tip can signal lung, liver, colon, or heart disorders.