American Osteopathic Association

Advancing the distinctive philosophy and practice of osteopathic medicine

Make Nail Care Part Of Your Health Routine

Woman's handsAs the temperatures begin to rise, winter gloves become a distant memory and many Americans opt for sandals instead of socks and shoes. With both hands and feet in the summer sunlight, you should know that caring for your nails is especially important during this time of year.  

“Many people do not realize that the condition of an individual’s nails reveals a lot about a person’s general health,” says Tyler Cymet, DO, an osteopathic family physician in Baltimore.

Dr. Cymet explains that a healthy nail bed should look pink from a rich blood supply. The nail plate, the most visible part of the nail, should be lustrous, strong and flexible. Nail discoloration or a difference in composition can indicate health concerns such as:

  • Unusually white nails may be a symptom of liver disease.

  • Nails appearing bright red could indicate heart irregularities.

  • Pale and easily breakable nails could signify anemia.

  • Grey-black nails may denote melanoma.

  • Yellowish nails (unrelated to fungal infections) could suggest diabetes.

  • Unusually thick nails may indicate circulatory problems.

  • Severely rigid nails can be caused by kidney disease.

  • Concave or dry nails often mean that you lack iron, calcium, zinc, protein, or vitamins A, B and C in your diet.

Avoiding Nail Fungus

“Although the nail can be an indicator of some disorders, it is primarily a location of potential bacterial and fungal infection,” says Dr. Cymet. "To prevent a visit to the doctor, individuals should practice good nail care."

He recommends these tips to keeping fingernails and toenails fungus-free:
  • Wear cotton-lined gloves when using soap and water for prolonged periods or when using harsh chemicals.

  • Don’t use fingernails as tools to pick, poke or pry things.

  • Don’t bite nails or pick at cuticles as these habits damage the nail bed.

  • Moisturize fingernails frequently.

  • Change cotton or wool socks frequently.

  • Air out your shoes after use: open up laces, loosen the tongue, and remove insoles to promote thorough drying.

  • Dry your feet well after washing and use ample foot powder, if needed, especially between the toes.

  • Avoid walking barefoot in public bathrooms or shower areas. Better yet, try wearing waterproof sandals in the shower.

  • Cut toenails straight across rather than curved at the edges.

Nail Fungus Treatment

If an individual does obtain a fungus, Dr. Cymet warns that it will grow slowly, and is hard to eliminate. While current anti-fungal medications that remove the fungus are strong, they must be taken carefully for months in order to be effective. These drugs also have potential side effects including organ damage. Therefore, patients need to be monitored regularly by a physician.  

“Any symptoms suggesting organ damage should be reported immediately to your physician,” Dr. Cymet cautions. 

Some of these indicators can include: unusual fatigue, severe loss of appetite, nausea, yellow eyes, dark urine, pale stool, skin rashes, bleeding, enlarged lymph glands, or signs of bacteria infection. Signs that a bacterial infection is taking place are increased pain, swelling, redness, tenderness or heat from the nail. Red streaks extending from the area, discharge of pus, or a fever of 100 degrees or higher are also indicators of a bacterial infection.

While anti-fungal medications usually suppress the nail infection, they may not be a permanent cure. It is always easier to prevent fungus than to eliminate it after it appears,” advises Dr. Cymet. 

 

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