Nail Disorders

Nail Disorders
Nail Disorders (Image: Dreamstime)

Nail disorders are common, but it's hard to properly diagnose them because appearances make it difficult. That's why it's important to seek medical help for the right treatment. Most nail diseases, which are caused by fungi, can appear frightening. However, with the correct diagnosis and treatment, a fungal nail infection can be cured when treated. Then, after awhile, new nails that are uninfected by the disorder, will grow back.

Parts of the Nail

The nail consists of six different parts. The nail plate is the hard structure made from translucent keratin. Blood vessels underneath the nail give it a pinkish appearance. The nail bed is made up of nerves, blood vessels and melanin-producing cells. Also known as the germinal matrix, the nail root is the part of the nail beneath the skin and behind the fingernail, extending several millimeters into the finger. White and shaped as a half-moon, the lunula usually can be seen through the nail plate. The cuticle, which is between the nail plate and the skin of the finger, fuses both structures together and serves as a barrier of protection from water. The perioncyhium covers the nail plate on its sides and is the area where hangnails and ingrown nails mostly appear. The hyponcyium, the area between the nail plant and fingertip, is another waterproof wall between the nail plate and fingertip


Onychomaycosis is the most common form of fungal nail infection. Caused by dermatophytes, the infection is under the front of a nail or nail fold and extends under the nail, affecting the entire structure. Superficial white onychomycosis (SWO) is also caused by dermatophytes, appearing on the nail plate as white chalky plaque, typically on the toenails. Candida is another fungal cause of nail disorders where nail plates have discolored patches of white, yellow, green or black. Ingrown toenails are caused by excessive sweating (hyperhidrosis), poorly trimmed nails and shoes that don't fit. Beginning with pain, it may lead to walking difficulties and infection. Beau's lines are transverse ridges that can disrupt nail growth. Other symptoms include nails turning a variety of colors including blue, green, black, white or yellow. Onycholysis is when the nail is separated from its base and side. This creates a space for dirt to collect under the nail, creating a grayish-white color, which can also range from yellow to brown. It can be hereditary or because of chemicals or trauma. Onychogryphosis refers to a thickening nail plate, usually affecting the big toes of elderly people. Caused from foot injury, this disorder sets in because shoes don't fit properly, resulting in poor blood supply. The skin disease, psoriasis, affects nails with about half of the cases, causing nail pits, rough nails and crumbling nail plates. Nail tumors are usually found on the thumb and index fingers, although they can involve multiple fingers.


Although there are many nail disorders, most are due to fungal infections. Toenails are most affected by fungal diseases. They can also be are due to infections and skin diseases. Other causes include tumors (both benign and malignant) and particular system-wide diseases. Accidental self-infliction is another cause.


A few symptoms include discoloration or spotting, as well as lesions, pits, ridges and scars on the nails. Red, painful swelling is another symptom, besides brown-black bands. If you discover any abnormalities, seek medical attention rather than waiting for it to go away.


Keep nails trimmed and ensure shoes fit comfortably. Don't walk barefoot in public places, such as swimming pools. A healthy diet plays a major part in nail health. Include plenty of antioxidant foods such as fruits and vegetables. Eat less red meat, adding more lean cuts, as well as cold-water fish and beans. Avoid refined, processed foods, choosing foods. Also, cut out or limit trans-fatty acids. Herbs also strengthen nails. You can take them as dried extracts, capsules, powders or teas.


Don't depend on nail technicians and pedicurists to diagnose and prescribe treatment for nail disorders. They are only licensed for beautifying hands and feet. Instead, consult dermatologists for a proper diagnosis and treatment.

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