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Nail Symptoms and Their Possible Meanings

Finger Nails — New Bern, NC — East Carolina Dermatology and Skin Surgery, PLLC

Some people regard odd-looking nails purely as an aesthetic issue calling for the attention of a manicurist or pedicurist. In reality, these trouble signs can also indicate a variety of potential health problems. These problems often require evaluation and treatment by the appropriate medical specialist.

If your fingernails or toenail have an unusual appearance (with or without additional discomfort), you’ll benefit from a basic understanding of what these changes might mean and how treatment can address them. Take a look at some common symptoms and their potential causes.

Discolored Nails

Nails can take on some surprising colors. One common example is a dark purple color caused by an acute injury, such as when you drop a heavy item onto your toe or finger. This purple discoloration, which stems from bleeding beneath the nail bed, should resolve itself naturally (if slowly) with new nail growth.

Other discolorations may signal a nail infection. For instance, a nail that has turned white or yellow may have onycholysis, a separation of the nail plate associated with a fungal infection. Additionally, some bacteria can turn the nails green. And a dark vertical stripe on a nail may indicate possible melanoma that requires removal.

Abnormally Thick Nails

Nails normally grow longer, but occasionally they can grow thicker instead, leaving you with a lumpy nail that may snag painfully on socks or cause other discomfort. Fungal toenail infections often cause this problem. Dermatologists can treat this kind of infection with drugs.

This symptom doesn’t always indicate infection, however. Athletes or others who routinely experience nail injuries may develop abnormal nail growth and thickened nails. Natural aging, diabetes, and psoriasis can also promote thickening of the nails.

Curved or Misshapen Nails

A fingernail or toenail generally assumes a gentle side-to-side curve that matches the contours of the digit. Sometimes, however, nails may start to curve in an unnatural direction. The examples of this include clubbing and spooning.

Clubbing, in which the side of the nails overgrow around the fingertips, may occur due to an underlying cardiovascular, pulmonary, digestive, or immune system disorder. Spooning, which causes the edges of the nail to point upward instead of curving downward, may occur due to iron deficiency or malabsorption.

In either of these conditions, your dermatologist may recommend further diagnostic testing to identify whatever underlying problem might need more general medical care. Successful treatment of the issue may help to slow or stop the progress of the nail deformity.

Split or Brittle Nails

While anyone can break a nail by accident, a specialist should examine nails that routinely split or break (a problem known as onychoschizia). Most cases of brittleness and splitting come from repeated wetting and drying of the nails, particularly in cold or dry environments. You might also have an iron deficiency.

Exposure to household cleaners and other strong solvents can lead to a condition known as onychorrhexis. This problem causes nails to grow thin and brittle, with vertical ridges running through them. These thin, brittle nails may split along the edges as well.

Your first line of defense against split or brittle nails will probably involve protecting your nails from environmental irritants. You may need to apply special lotions to keep your fingernails hydrated and use protective gloves when performing household tasks, such as kitchen cleaning or car maintenance.

The skilled team at East Carolina Dermatology and Skin Surgery, PLLC, can diagnose your mysterious nail ailment and prescribe the right treatment routine to get it under control. Contact our clinic today to schedule an evaluation. We look forward to assisting you with your problem so you can have beautiful, pain-free nails.

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