Nail Health/Nail Problems

Healthy nails are usually smooth and one consistent color. Keeping your nails clean, trimmed, and dry can help you maintain healthy nails. Some problems with nail health resolve on their own while others may require treatment. Abnormal or unhealthy nails may even indicate other health conditions within the body that should be treated.

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Types of Nail Problems

Poor nail health may indicate a variety of things. Common nail problems include:

  • Yellow nails: usually caused by a fungal infection; may rarely indicate more serious conditions
  • White or pale nails: may mean serious health complications, such as malnutrition, liver problems, anemia, or congestive heart failure
  • Bluish nails: indicates poor oxygen intake and may be a sign of lung problems or lung disease
  • Rippled or pitted nails: early sign of psoriasis or inflammatory arthritis
  • Cracked or split nails: may indicate thyroid disease
  • Red or puffy nail fold: may indicate an infection or a connective tissue disorder such as lupus
  • Dark lines beneath nail: may indicate melanoma (contact your dermatologist right away)
  • Thick, brittle, distorted nails: usually caused by a bacterial or fungal infection due to exposure to a warm, moist environment
  • Ingrown nails: nail corners dig into the surrounding soft tissue, causing swelling and irritation
  • Warts
  • Tumors or growths

White spots and vertical ridges on the nails are harmless and do not need to be treated.

Prevention and Treatment

The following prevention suggestions can help you avoid nail problems:

  • Keep nails clean, trimmed, and dry
  • Clip toenails straight across (do not curve at the edges)
  • Wear shoes that fit well and are dry
  • Wear flip flops in public showers and pools to reduce the risk of fungal infections
  • Use a nail brush or scrub under the nails each time you wash
  • Do not share nail grooming tools unless they are fully sanitized
  • Avoid chewing on or biting nails
  • Avoid self-treating ingrown toenails (seek a dermatologist instead)
  • Do not cut down the cuticles
  • Clip hangnails with a clean, sanitized nail trimmer (do not bite or rip them out)

Treatment for nail problems may include oral or topical medications. In some cases, part or all of the nail may need to be removed.