Written by: Cally Worden
I suspect that what the state of my nails communicates mostly is my lack of time (or inclination?!) for a manicure. The often unkempt rigid panels at the ends of my ten digits speak of parenthood in all its glory, where washing, cooking and cleaning take their toll. Breaks, chipped varnish and ragged cuticles are where it’s at on my hands.
But, I know with a bit of a soak and a buff they will come up okay when I need them to. My nail-flaws are superficial. More concerning, is when the overall condition or appearance of your nails changes – this can indicate an underlying health issue and may be your first indication that anything is wrong. Here are some common nail symptoms, and what they may mean.
Nails that Split
When you paint your nails you are effectively making them first wet, then waiting for them to dry before making them wet once more with a top coat. And, that’s not including any pre-manicure soaking and drying that you may indulge in. The natural drying effect of acetone is contained in most nail polishes. This wet/dry cycle causes your nail cells to expand and contract, putting them under a great deal of pressure that can eventually lead to them splitting or cracking.
Using a good quality hand and nail cream regularly can help keep nails hydrated. And frequent buffing will help to smooth any potential cracks that may start forming. If you must apply polish regularly, do give your nails a break once in a while, always use a basecoat to protect your nails from the wet/dry cycle of your chosen colour.
Bumps and Ridges
Your nails are constantly growing; this process starts from deep within your body. When your body is experiencing a health issue such as a fever, or inflammation, this can affect cell growth. Surgery, some medications and other physical traumas may also influence the outward appearance of growth in your nails.
If this happens to you it’s important to be patient. The effect is normally as temporary, as the health event that caused it; the bumps will usually grow out in their own time. If they don’t, you may need to reflect on the possibility that all may not be well inside you, even if you feel fine. This doesn’t always hold true though, nail growth can sometimes simply get itself into a cycle of bumpy growth that takes longer to disappear, even when the cause has been resolved. In the meantime you can buff away the worst of the ridges.
Dented or Curved Nails
This is known as koilonychias, a condition that causes nails to take on a spoon-like concave appearance. Its primary cause is an imbalance of iron in the body. If your iron metabolism creates too much iron (haemochromatosis) or too little (iron-deficient anaemia) then your nails may start to grow in this way.
If you notice your nails taking on this appearance, the first thing to do is talk with your GP. They may prescribe blood tests to check out your iron levels and may refer you also to a dermatologist for their opinion and advice. In either event, if the underlying problem can be identified and solved it is very possible that the curve in you nail will eventually grow out.
The distinctive domed, thick and shiny nature of clubbed nails is difficult for Doctors to miss. If you suspect your nails are clubbed, get them checked out by your GP, as it can be a sign of low oxygen levels, or an indicator of other serious conditions such as lung, liver or inflammatory bowel disease.
Nail colour is also a good indicator of changes in your body:
- White nails – white spots are generally no cause for concern, but if your whole nail takes on a white appearance (either in stripes, or a flat covering of the whole nail) it can be a symptom of kidney or liver disease, or a range of other infections
- Yellow nails – a yellowing of the nails may be cause by a fungal infection, or by psoriasis. The nicotine in cigarettes and certain nail polish chemicals can also lead to yellow nails. If your nails thicken at the same time as turning yellow it can be a sign of chronic bronchitis
- Green nails – green is not a normal nail colour, so if your nails take on this hue it’s usually a sign of some sort of bacterial infection. Check with your GP for the most appropriate treatment