We tend to treat our fingernails and toenails as merely cosmetic features. Maintaining their appearance is akin to getting our hair cut on a regular basis or shaving our unwanted body hair. However, our nails are more useful and important than most might realize -- they can act as beacons that indicate a number of health problems. So, while your nails might take on an abnormal shape or texture for a variety of reasons, some of these reasons may require medical attention.
When doctors and dermatologists come across nail abnormalities, they take these matters seriously. The treatments they prescribe will depend on the root of the problem. Oftentimes, disfigured nails represent symptoms, not the problem itself. Let’s discuss the potential causes of nails with abnormal shapes and textures and how you might treat the underlying issues.
When examining your nails, your doctor will be looking for irregularities in three major categories: shape, texture, and color. Healthy nails have a consistent shape and color and a smooth, even texture. Of course, there may be slight variations depending on your diet or circumstances (i.e. if something recently dropped on your nail and caused bruising, etc.).
Within the three categories listed above are a number of more specific issues. For instance, discolored nails might be yellow, white, purple, or blue. Misshapen nails might be sunken or protruding to varying degrees. And abnormal nail textures might be bumpy, pitted, brittle, lined, etc. The details matter, because the exact irregularity with your nails helps doctors and dermatologists narrow down the possible underlying health problems that are to blame, which include:
Of course, while fingernails and health are interconnected, nail abnormalities don’t necessarily suggest something deeply wrong with your overall health. If your nails don’t look quite right, it might simply be a matter of poor grooming, which can lead to minor infections and ingrown nails. Indeed, this is why proper nail grooming and hygiene is so important. If you take good care of your toenails and fingernails, you’ll be better able to spot a more serious problem should one arise. In any event, it’s wise to see your dermatologist whenever you have concerns with your nails.
As mentioned earlier, doctors treat nail problems based on the underlying disease (if there is one). If, for instance, an iron deficiency is to blame for Koilonychia, or “spooned nails,” a doctor might prescribe iron supplements and recommend a change in diet that includes red meat, nuts, dark green, leafy vegetables, and dried fruits. Other abnormal nail shapes, like clubbed nails, might be caused by liver or heart disease, so a doctor might suggest certain lifestyle changes coupled with relevant medications depending on the patient’s medical history, etc. If psoriasis is causing ripples in fingernails, a doctor might prescribe medications containing cortisone, synthetic vitamin D, tar, or anthralin. Whatever the case may be, properly diagnosing and treating the root cause of any nail abnormalities should help resolve these symptoms and restore fingernails and toenails to their healthy state over time.
If you suffer from bumpy nails, discolored nails, and/or misshapen nails, don’t brush it off as an aesthetic concern. Your nails might be trying to tell you something serious, and you should listen well. From there, leave it to health professionals to determine what exactly is wrong with your nails and why. In the end, you might have little to worry about, but it’s worth making sure just in case.
If you have more questions or concerns regarding your nail health, Premier Dermatology Partners has resources and experts at your disposal. To learn more about our team and all the services we provide, contact us.