What Your Nails Say About Your Health (cont.)

Fox agrees there is no need to run to the nearest cardiologist if your nail beds turn red. "It could very well be from nail polish," he says. Before assuming the worst, it's important to look at more common explanations, such as bruises, bleeding beneath the nail, and fungal infections.

When to See a Dermatologist

Many common nail disorders stem from fungal infections, which can cause the nails to crack, peel, and change color and texture. These infections often prove difficult to treat and may require professional help, including prescription antifungal medications. Fox says it's best to see a dermatologist if symptoms persist, especially if the nails start to dislodge from the base or you experience pain and swelling.

Changes in texture, shape, or color that aren't due to a bruise or fungal infection, including irregular growth, pitting or holes in the nails, dark brown streaks beneath the nail and cuticle, or long-standing warts on the nail bed are particular concerns. According to Lior, they can indicate skin cancer. "Warts around the nails have a tendency to develop into squamous cell cancer," she tells WebMD. "If patients see a dark discoloration involving the cuticle, then we worry about melanoma," the deadliest form of skin cancer.

Fox advises reporting these types of changes to a specialist as soon as possible. "Dermatologists are well-trained in deciphering between innocuous and serious nail conditions, as well as determining when a change requires further testing."

Tips for Strong, Healthy Nails

To strengthen your nails, avoid infections, and improve their appearance, try the following tips:

  • Keep your nails clean and dry.
  • Avoid nail-biting or picking.
  • Apply moisturizer to your nails and cuticles every day. Creams with urea, phospholipids, or lactic acid can help prevent cracking.
  • File your nails in one direction and round the tip slightly, rather than filing to a point.
  • Don't remove the cuticles or clean too deeply under your nails, which can lead to infection.
  • Don't dig out ingrown toenails. See a dermatologist if they become bothersome.
  • Avoid nail polish removers that contain acetone or formaldehyde.
  • Bring your own instruments if you get frequent manicures.
  • If you have artificial nails, check regularly for green discoloration (a sign of bacterial infection).
  • Eat a balanced diet and take vitamins containing biotin.

Finally, ask your doctor to take a look at your nails during your next checkup. Fox says this is becoming more routine "because the nails offer such a unique window into the health of our bodies."

Published March 7, 2005.


SOURCES: Tamara Lior, MD, dermatologist, Cleveland Clinic Florida. Joshua Fox, MD, director, Advanced Dermatology; spokesman, American Academy of Dermatology. News release, Advanced Dermatology. American Academy of Dermatology. Christine Laine, MD, MPH, senior deputy editor, Annals of Internal Medicine; spokeswoman, American College of Physicians.


Last Editorial Review: 3/8/2005 9:13:50 PM

© 2005-2014 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.
Source article on WebMD



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