Health Fact Archive

Nail Fungus, What It Isn't!

"Tho the world may be a jungle, Not all funny nails are fungal." Anonymous

People find funny-looking nails embarrassing, at least in part because everyone, from doctors to manicurists, more or less automatically calls them "fungus" (fungal nails). This makes them sound contagious and as if they are caused by poor hygiene.

The first thing to realize about fungal nails, therefore, is that if you think you have them, there is a fair-to-middling chance you don't!

Here are some other conditions you may have instead of fungal nails:

  1. Lines and ridges -- These are common and may be considered normal.


  2. Whitish or yellowish nails -- due to onycholysis. This means separation of the nail from the nail bed. The color you see is air. The treatment is to trim the nail short, don't clean under it, polish if you want to hide the color, and wait 2 to 3 months.


  3. Red or black nails -- due to a hematoma, or blood under the nail, usually from trauma (like wacking yourself on the thumb with a hammer). The red or black color will Go away by itself.


  4. Green nails -- caused by pseudomonas bacteria, which live silently under many nails minding their own business. This bacteria grows under a nail that has partially separated from the nail bed, thereby producing a green pigment. No antibiotics are needed. The treatment is to trim the nail short, don't clean it, polish if you want to hide the color, and wait 2 to 3 months.


  5. Pitted nails -- May be associated with psoriasis or other skin problems that affect the nail matrix, the area under the skin just behind the nail, this is the area from which the nail grows.


  6. Swelling and redness of the skin around the nail -- called paronychia. This condition occurs when yeast infects a damaged cuticle. Applying a topical anti-yeast cream (such as one containing clotrimazole, miconazole, and terbinafine, which are available over-the-counter) for 2 months or so will usually work.

For more, please visit the Fungal Nail Center.


Last Editorial Review: 6/19/2002




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