Toenails! They aren’t just little shields for your toes, nor mere platforms for pretty nail polish. They can also act as a window to your overall health.
Certain toenail conditions can reveal at a glance whether your feet — and your body as a whole — are healthy. You can use these signs to clue you in on ways to take better care of your feet, your nails, and your whole body. If you happen to notice certain symptoms of a serious underlying condition, it’s a good idea to check in with a Salt Lake City podiatrist for an evaluation and personalized remedies.
Thick, Yellow, or Brownish Nails — Toenail Fungus
One of the most common scenarios for toenails in ailing health is that they will thicken and take on a yellow or very light brownish tinge. This is an indication of toenail fungus. They may also become chalky, cloudy, or completely opaque. In severe cases, the nails may begin to crack and break or separate from the nail bed.
Toenail fungus is an extremely common condition experienced by millions of Americans every year. The condition is rarely painful, but when left untreated leads to increasingly poor nail health. Advanced cases can see nails separating from the nailbed and possible secondary infections around the nail matrix and toe.
Treatment can consist of a combination of oral antifungal medications mixed with topical antifungals. Preventing new cases involves keeping feet sanitary, especially in communal showers or when sharing a bathroom with someone who has chronic nail fungus. Keeping your feet dry and diligently cutting toenails (always straight across) can prevent reinfection. You may need to choose new footwear that allows your feet to stay dry without being too tight or too loose, as well.
Red, Painful Toes That Swell Over the Nail — Ingrown Toenail
Ingrown toenails are another very common situation for millions of people. They most often occur when the nail has been trimmed too closely around the edges, creating a rounded spot where skin can grow over the top of the nail. Ingrown nails are also more likely to occur when a foot is enclosed in tight shoes or constantly kept moist.
Good prevention is the best way to deal with ingrown toenails that keep coming back. Trim toenails straight across, leaving triangular-shaped edges that prevent skin from growing over the tops of the nails. Shoes should also be worn that aren’t tight-fitting and that allow the foot to breathe throughout the day. If your feet frequently become wet or sweaty, invest in Gore-Tex shoes and moisture-wicking socks. Only wear clean socks, and bring extra pairs for long work shifts or activities like hiking.
Treatment of current ingrown nails is best left to professionals. Do not attempt to “dig out” the nail, as this can cause further toe damage and swelling, inviting the infection to spread. For mild cases, you can try soaking the foot in a warm foot bath with Epsom salts and a bit of body wash, followed by keeping the foot dry and elevated. However, any time it is painful to walk and you notice pus/discharge and extreme discoloration of the toe, seek help from a podiatrist as soon as possible.
Rounded Clubbing — Lung Cancer or Other Serious Illness
Toenail clubbing is a rare condition that most often indicates a serious underlying health issue. Most often, clubbing results from a lung disease or cancer says Mount Sinai hospitals. It can also indicate a condition like cirrhosis, dysentery, Graves disease, celiac, an overactive thyroid, or other forms of cancer.
Clubbed toenails take on a distinctive rounded appearance. The nail will often bulge from the base of the nail bed, causing the nail edge to point downward. The edges of the nail may become flattened or wrap past the edge of the finger. Fingertips will bulge and may become white, red, or have a bluish tint.
Nail clubbing is a reaction to low blood oxygen levels or other abnormalities of the body. It should be taken seriously and evaluated by a podiatrist, who may refer you to an oncologist for further screening and review.
Pitting, Brittleness — Psoriasis, Anemia, Nutritional Deficiency
Nails can split, crack, or take on a cloudy appearance as a result of everyday activities. Minor trauma, such as can be caused by using nails to scratch at surfaces, can lead to these conditions. In some cases, nails that are constantly kept wet, being washed, or subject to harsh chemicals like acetone can take on these appearances.
Beau lines are a specific condition marked by horizontal lines and subtle depressions in the nail surface. These can result from injury to the nail or the nail bed. One common reason for Beau lines is that the patient has been picking at their nailbed or cuticles, slowing nail growth temporarily. When normal growth is restored, the underdeveloped part of the nail stands out as a groove or line.
However, not all nail weaknesses can be traced back to outside factors. When nails have pitting, or holes in them, for example, this can be a sign of psoriasis. Individuals with alopecia — or hair loss — may also experience some nail-related symptoms since nails and hair are both made of keratin.
Anemia can also cause nails that are white and brittle. Iron deficiency anemia, in particular, can cause nail “spooning”, where the edges of the nail begin to curl upwards.
Most of these conditions have potential treatments. Remedies can include dietary supplements, topical treatments, and home care regimens. See a podiatrist for a diagnosis and recommendations based on your specific condition.
Other Discoloration — See Chart
Nails can turn a variety of colors other than yellow/brown for various reasons. Dark lines, possibly indicating a rare form of melanoma, are some of the most important discolorations to watch out for. See other possible conditions in the table below, courtesy of the American Academy of Dermatology Association (AAD).
|Color||Disease or other health problem|
|Blue nails||Not enough oxygen in your bloodstream|
|White nails||Liver disease, diabetes|
|Half pink, half white nails||Kidney disease|
|Yellow nails||Lung disease, nail infection|
|Dusky red half-moons||Could be lupus, heart disease, alopecia areata, arthritis, dermatomyositis|
|Blue half-moons||Could be sign of poisoning|
See a Podiatrist for Worrying Toenail Symptoms
Visiting a podiatrist near you is the best course of action for any toenail condition that is bothering you, that isn’t resolving or could indicate a serious chronic illness.
The offices of Elizabeth Auger, DPM, can provide you with a thorough evaluation and diagnosis of your nail condition. We can then offer targeted treatments. Some conditions can be resolved with medications, but most will require lifestyle changes in order to keep your feet dry and your nails protected. Our podiatry experts can suggest certain care regimens and footwear that can decrease the chances of conditions like toenail fungus returning.
Schedule an appointment with a podiatrist near you when you call (801) 845-3960 or contact us online.