If we had a time-lapse documentary of our nails, we might feel shocked by the dramatic differences as they change in days or weeks. As babies, our fingernails and toenails resemble perfectly shaped pink seashells. But by adulthood, our nails may have ridges, discolored areas, and other signs commonly attributed to aging but which can actually be indicative of health challenges both hidden and overt. Learning to read our nails is a good practice for better health.
What Do Nail Changes Mean?
Transformations in our bodies accompany aging. Just as with silver strands in our hair, nail changes might simply be part of that journey. But not all variations in our fingernails and toenails are a part of the normal aging process, caution health experts. Our nails’ appearance might reveal medical conditions that require treatment.
The American Academy of Dermatology recommends checking with a dermatologist if we experience the following symptoms in our fingernails or toenails:
- Dark Stripe: Although not all brown streaks in our nails mean something’s wrong, a vertical dark stripe might come from melanoma. This type of skin cancer requires prompt treatment from your healthcare provider.
- Pitting: Nails with tiny dents, known as pitting, might signify a health condition. Areas that look like they were made with an ice pick may result from atopic dermatitis, psoriasis, or alopecia areata. Check with your doctor for a diagnosis and treatment.
- Redness and Swelling: Inflamed, swollen skin around one or more nails may result from an infection. Although we might begin with home treatment by soaking our infected nails several times a day, continued inflammation and pain may require intervention by a healthcare provider.
- Thickening and Curves: Known as Ram’s Horn, thick and curvy nails may result from onychogryphosis. This disease typically impacts our toes, making our nails extremely long, brown or yellow, and curved. Visit a physician for treatment to avoid future complications, such as ingrown nails, infection, and pain.
- Fungus: Starting as a yellow or white area under our nails, fungus may result in thickened, crumbling fingernails or toenails. If it becomes painful or symptoms increase, check with your healthcare provider.
- Depressions: Known as Beau’s lines, depressions that stretch across our fingernails may result from malnutrition, pneumonia, zinc deficiency, high fever, or diabetes. Consult with your physician for a diagnosis.
- Blue Hues: Nails that appear to have blue tinges might indicate we are lacking enough oxygen. Blue tones may result from lung conditions like emphysema or heart problems. Check with your doctor if your nails turn blue.
Other causes of nail changes, such as lifting, may be more external but they still bear talking about with a physician to make sure. The conditions associated with the nail symptoms above may seem alarming and some are. But these symptoms don’t always signify dangerous diseases and even so, sometimes the nails are great early indicators that can help us head off something in the early stages so don't avoid talking about it out of fear, it could be your alarm system at work. No matter what, we probably all need to be a little more cognizant of the ways that our nails offer us important clues to our health. We encourage you to visit a healthcare provider for a diagnosis if these or other nail changes are happening for you.
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