What your nail says about you
Your body communicates when something is wrong. The color and state of your fingernails can let you know when something is going awry inside your body. Sometimes they can be minor vitamin deficiencies and other times more serious conditions. These changes can be subtle or blatant and it’s worth noting any differences because many diseases are reflected on your fingertips. As always these are warning signs and it’s important not to rely solely on your nails for a health check.
Most of us don’t give a lot of thought to our fingernails beyond how often to clip them or which color to paint them. But besides protecting our fingertips or making a beauty statement, your nails say a lot more about your body than you think.
Do You Bite Your Nails? It Could Lead to Infection
Most nail symptoms are due to systemic issues, trauma, or lifestyle factors, and this includes the habit of nail biting. Nail biters are susceptible to paronychia, a skin infection that occurs around your nails. As you chew your nails, bacteria, yeast, and other microorganisms can enter through tiny tears or abrasions, leading to swelling, redness, and pus around your nails.
What do changes at the tips of your fingers mean? These are a few things top dermatologists said when asked to explain things that can happen and what each signal could say about your health.
Weak, Brittle, or Splitting
You can break or bend your nails easily, peel them, or they constantly split. Brittle can be related to advancing age, or a sign that they’ve been over processed due to harsh manicures, acrylic nails, or gel wraps. You may also be deficient in vitamin A (which helps your body process protein and is a key ingredient in your nails), vitamin C, or biotin, which is a B vitamin that can help strengthen nails and speed their growth.
Your nails may yellow with age or due to the use of acrylic nails or nail polish. Smoking can also stain nails a yellowish hue. If your nails are thick, crumbly, and yellow, a fungal infection could be to blame.
“Lifting” Nails (Onycholysis)
Chefs, bartenders, or health-care workers may notice their fingernails separate from their nail bed. It seems scary, but often, it’s due to irritation from excessive water exposure, says Adigun. A too-aggressive manicure, nail hardeners, or glues could also cause the damage.
Those thin lines that run vertically up your nail are likely totally normal. Vertical nail ridges are from aging. Think about them like the wrinkles of your nails. Your best bet is keeping your nails and cuticles moisturized.
Nails curving up? Time to have some bloodwork done. “A very thin nail which becomes concave in shape is usually a sign of iron deficiency or anemia,” says Jaliman. If you’re deficient, a supplement will likely fix the problem. But ask your doctor about other issues that could be involved, too.
Bloody-looking streaks on your nail bed are not normal (unless you’ve just slammed a finger in a car door). Little longitudinal lines of blood especially on the half of the nail closest to your body are called splinter hemorrhages. They can indicate a heart infection affecting the valves or inner lining of the heart.
Small white spots on your nails are usually the result of nail trauma. They’re not cause for concern and will fade or grow out on their own. Less commonly, white spots that do not go away could be due to a fungal infection.
Eyes may be the windows to the soul, but nails can offer an important glimpse into your overall health. If you notice any significant changes in your nails, including swelling, discolorations, or changes in shape or thickness, see a dermatologist right away. It could be nothing, or it could be due to an underlying condition (for instance, nail problems are more common in people with diabetes).