It’s important to look at our nails regularly as they’re a useful indicator of our general health. If we notice any lasting abnormalities in colour, shape, texture or consistency – indeed any alteration in their appearance, then this could be a sign of an infection or an underlying health problem.
Fortunately, as finger and toe nails are clearly visible, it’s possible to get to the root of nail problems and potential hidden health issues quickly. Most changes in our nail’s appearance are down to age and light injury through use, but ideally, our nails should be smooth, uniform in size and shape, and free from colour spots or general discolouration.
Depending on what condition we may be experiencing, there are many varied symptoms that could affect us. Some nail conditions are easily identified as being caused by general wear and tear of daily life, and it’s quite common to see a variety of nail conditions such as white spots in the nails or ingrown toenails, for example. However, if nails are loose or thickened, discoloured, dented and grooved or curved, then these are just some of the signs that something potentially more serious needs to be addressed.
Essentially nails are made from a protein called keratin. Growing from the area under your cuticles, nails have different areas (like the nail bed, nail folds and the nail plate, for example) that can be affected by fungal infections, skin diseases and other medical conditions. Depending on the type of nail condition, this will show up in different areas.
Certain skin diseases that are known to affect the nails include eczema (or dermatitis) and psoriasis. Fungal infections can simply be caused by poor hygiene or transmission by others. Uncommonly, there are also diseases of lung, heart, kidney, liver and thyroid that could be signified by changes in shape, colour and structure of the nail. Fungal infections are characterised by a crumbling, or thickening of the nail plate, and discolouration. It’s recognised that diabetes, and certain immunological conditions could also be a cause of these sorts of changes. Indeed, anything from yellowing of the nails to changes in texture could be a down to tuberculosis, jaundice, sinusitis, bronchiectasis and the type of medication (if any) that may be taken.
The cause of many conditions is fungal infection – usually in the toenails. And however it’s been contracted; it's normally easily solved.
Keeping our nails dry, clean and trimmed is usually the easiest way to avoid bacterial problems. Using rubber gloves when cleaning, avoiding skin contact with strong household chemicals is also advised. Moisturising our hands and rubbing some moisturiser into the nails is another measure that can increase our nail health. They can also be strengthened by using vitamin B7 supplements (also known as biotin).
If you experience any kind of prolonged change to the appearance, texture and shape of your nails, it’s advisable to talk with your doctor as it could be a sign of an underlying health problem.
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