What Your Nails Say About Your Health

nail health

Did you know that your nails can provide insight into your overall health? Your nail health reflects what is happening in the rest of your body and can help you identify and manage certain health problems.

While many nail problems are minor and don’t necessarily indicate significant medical concerns, there are some exceptions.

Types of nail issues

Healthy nails are smooth with the same overall colour. They may occasionally have white spots on them, but these are normal and no cause for concern. Any deviation from a healthy-looking nail may indicate an underlying medical condition, but it’s more likely that you need to make some changes to your nail health care regime.

Start by examining your nails for anything unusual, such as:

Discolouration

Your nails should be pale pink. They can become discoloured because of:

  • Injury and blood collecting under the nail
  • Prolonged use of nail varnish
  • Smoking
  • Using hair or clothing dyes
  • Malnutrition
  • Fungal infection (yellow nails)
  • Subungual melanoma (a rare form of skin cancer)
  • Anaemia (indicated by pale nails)
  • Liver disease (indicated by white nails)
  • Congestive heart disease or lung problems (nails with a bluish colour)

Rippled or ridged nails

As you get older, ridges can appear on your nails. These are mostly normal and do not necessarily indicate poor nail health. However, they can also indicate one or more of the following conditions:

  • Inflammatory arthritis
  • Psoriasis
  • Anaemia
  • Malnutrition

Nail thickening

Your nails can get thicker as you grow older. Other causes of nail thickening include:

  • Fungal infection
  • Injury
  • Tight shoes
  • Psoriasis
  • Arthritis

Nail coming away or raising from the nail bed

Injuring your finger or toe can cause the nail to start to fall off or lift off the nail bed. Other causes include:

  • Fungal infection
  • Psoriasis
  • Anaemia
  • Thyroid issues
  • Autoimmune diseases
  • Cracked or split nails

If your nails are brittle, cracked or split it may be because of:

  • Repeated immersion in water
  • Regular use of nail polish and nail polish remover
  • Fungal infection
  • Thyroid disease

Puffy nail fold

This is the supporting skin and tissue around the nail. If it becomes red and puffy, it may indicate:

  • Irritation
  • Injury
  • Eczema
  • Psoriasis
  • Diabetes
  • HIV

When to see your GP

Most of the time, a change in the condition of your nails will be something minor like a fungal nail infection, but occasionally it can be a sign of a more serious health condition.

You should see your doctor if:

  • One or more of your nails have changed shape or colour
  • A nail has fallen off
  • Around your nail is red, sore and swollen
  • There have been changes in the condition of your nails and you don’t know what’s caused it

Alternatively, if you have problems with your toenails, you can see a podiatrist: a healthcare professional who treats foot problems.

Tips for maintaining nail health

There are several things you can do to keep your nails in top condition, avoid infections and enhance their appearance, starting with your diet.

Eating certain foods such as eggs and whole grains can improve your nail health, as they contain essential vitamins and nutrients. Drinking plenty of water and staying hydrated will also help your nails flourish.

Other nail care tips include:

  • Keep your nails clean and dry . Wear protective gloves when your hands are in water and use a soft brush to clean your nails
  • Don’t bite or pick your nails or the skin around them
  • Use hand cream to moisturise your nails and cuticles
  • Cut your nails regularly. You should cut them straight across rather than down the edges
  • Avoid using sharp objects to clean under your nails
  • Wear correctly-fitting shoes and cotton socks so your feet can “breathe” properly

EBPCOOH are the out of hours medical care provider for East Berkshire. If you need non-urgent medical advice from a health care professional outside their regular opening hours, please call NHS 111.