Nails are unique structures formed of the protein keratin, just like hair and the superficial skin layers. Their role is to protect the sensitive tips of the fingers from accidental trauma.
The nail anatomy consists of the nail plate, which is the hard part of the nail and the surrounding structures. Underneath the nail, there lays the nail bed which attaches the nail to the finger. The nail matrix is located underneath the base of the nail and is the part that contains nerves, lymph and blood vessels. The part which connects the top of the nail plate to the skin behind is the cuticle. The lunula is the half-moon shape at the base of the nail, whereas the lateral nail folds are the folds of hard skin at the sides of the nail plate. This prevents microbial organisms to enter the nail bed and keeps moisture out.
Healthy nails are usually smooth, consistent in color, and free of spots. Therefore, if you have noticed spots, discoloration, nail separation, or changes in growth rate, they can be signs of nail diseases or an indication of the internal condition of your body.
So, nail diseases, also called onychosis, are deformities or diseases of the nail, that might be caused by injuries to the fingers and hands, infections, birth deformities, tumors, drugs, or medications, such as those used for chemotherapy.
Types of Nail Diseases
Paronychia is an onychosis, more specifically a skin infection around the fingernails or toenails. This infection usually affects the skin at the base (cuticle) or up the sides of the nail.
There are two types of paronychia:
Appears suddenly and develops quickly, usually around the fingernails. Most of the time doesn’t last long. Acute paronychia occurs usually as a result of damage to the skin around the nails from biting, picking, hangnails, manicures, or other physical trauma. The most common infecting agents to cause this type of infection is Staphylococcus and Enterococcus bacteria.
Chronic paronychia may occur on your fingers or toes, it comes on slowly and lasts longer than acute paronychia. Usually, it is caused by more than one infecting agent, often Candida yeast and bacteria. Risk groups of this infection are mostly people who are constantly working in water.
Symptoms of Paronychia
– Swelling, pain, and redness around the base or the sides of the nail
– Pus-filled blisters (abscesses)
– Tenderness of the skin around your nail
– Changes in nail shape, color, or texture (deformed and thick nail)
– Detachment of your nail from the skin
Mees’ lines are transverse white bands across the beds of the nails, that can appear as a sign of arsenic, thallium or other heavy metal poisonings. They might also be a symptom of renal failure. As the nail grows the lines move towards the end, and disappear when trimmed.
If you have this symptom, see a doctor so he can check for arsenic in your body from hair or tissue samples.
Beau’s lines are transverse depressions that occur in situations such as severe illness, zinc deficiency, exposure to cold temperatures in the presence of Raynaud’s disease, diseases that cause a high fever such as measles, mumps, and scarlet fever, uncontrolled diabetes, pneumonia, nail injury, severe infection, malnutrition, chemotherapy, besides several other conditions.
Beau’s lines can appear in the fingernails, thumbs, toenails, or all nails, and may be confused with nail ridging.
Onycholysis is a medical condition characterized by a separation of the nail from the nail bed and a white discoloration. Nail plate separation can occur for different reasons, but the most common cause is onychomycosis (a fungal nail infection).
Onycholysis can happen due to infection, trauma, tight shoes, reaction to systematic medication such as chemotherapy drugs, or antibiotics (such a tetracycline), repetitive tapping or drumming of the fingernails, reaction to chemical nail polish removers, artificial nail tips, or household clean products, fungal infections, nail psoriasis, bacterial infections, such as Pseudomonas, and iron deficiency or thyroid over-activity.
Leukonychia (white spots)
Leukonychia, also known as white nails or milk spots, is a medical term for white discoloration of nails. The term derives from the Greek words leuko (“white”) and onyx (“nail”).
They appear usually in the form of white spots or lines and are usually caused by minor injuries or traumas to the base of the nail (the matrix). However, other causes of Leukonychia might be also iron deficiency anemia, kidney disease, heart failure, diabetes, zinc deficiency, psoriasis, hyperthyroidism, etc.
Terry’s nails is a nail condition in which a person’s fingernails or toenails appear white, similar to the “ground glass” appearance without any lunula. The nails might also appear with a little pink strip at the top of the nail bed. This happens due to a decrease in blood flow to the nail bed and an increase in connective tissue.
Terry’s nails can sometimes be attributed to aging. But, it can also be a sign of a serious underlying condition, such as congestive heart failure, diabetes, liver disease, or kidney failure.
Nail clubbing, also known as digital clubbing, is a deformity of the finger or toenails which occurs when the tips of the fingers enlarge and the nails thicken and curve around the fingertips, usually over the course of years.
Clubbing is usually a result of low oxygen in the blood and might be a sign of various types of disease, such as inflammatory bowel disease, liver disease, cardiovascular disease, pulmonary disease, and AIDS.
Nail pitting is characterized by shallow or deep holes in your nails. The pitting can happen on your fingernails or your toenails.
Nail pitting is common in people who have psoriasis – a condition characterized by scaly patches on the skin. But, nail pitting can also be associated with connective tissue disorders, such as Reiter’s syndrome, and autoimmune diseases such as alopecia areata – an autoimmune disease that causes hair loss.
Yellow nail syndrome
Yellow nail syndrome is an extremely rare nail disorder characterized by malformations affecting the fingernails and toenails, resulting in yellow, thick, and curved nails. Nails may also lack a cuticle and detach from the nail bed.
Yellow nail syndrome is often a sign of respiratory diseases, such as chronic bronchitis. It is associated with the accumulation of fluid in the membranes which surround the lungs and lining the chest cavity (pleural effusion). Pleural effusions can cause chest pain, shortness of breath, and a cough.
Yellow nail syndrome can also be related to swelling of the hands (lymphedema), rheumatoid arthritis, internal malignancies, or respiratory illnesses such as chronic bronchitis or sinusitis.
However, having any of these signs isn’t proof of any medical condition. Visit a doctor to determine your exact condition. Sometimes, all it takes is proper care of your nails to correct their appearance.
Spoon nails (Koilonychia)
Spoon nails (koilonychia) are soft nails that have raised ridges and scoop outward, like spoons. Usually, spoon nails are a sign of iron deficiency anemia or a liver condition known as hemochromatosis, in which your body absorbs too much iron from the food you eat.
Spoon nails can also be related to heart disease, hypothyroidism, lupus erythematosus, or Raynaud’s disease.
Disclaimer: The contents of this article: text, graphics, images, and other materials contained are strictly for informational purposes only. The Content is NOT intended to be used as a substitute for professional medical diagnosis, advice, or treatment. Please ALWAYS seek the advice of a qualified health provider with all the questions that you have related to, or about, a medical condition.
You might also want to read: Paronychia: What Is It, What Causes It And How To Prevent It