Knowing Your Nails (Part II)

Knowing Your Nails (Part II)

Nails support and protect the sensitive tips of our fingers and toes.

Fingernails also help us to pick up objects, scratch an itch or untie a knot. Fingernails grow about three times faster than toenails. There are a number of conditions that can affect our nails, with different causes and treatments.

Knowing your nails (Part II)
Knowing your nails (Part II)
Splitting nails

In this condition, the nail plate splits or layers as it grows off the nail bed. Common causes include:

  • Frequently using and removing nail polish
  • Having constantly wet hands, especially while using soap and washing detergents
  • Continuous mild trauma such as habitual finger-tapping or using the nails as tools (to pick between the teeth, for example).
Thickened nails

This condition affects the toenails more than the fingernails. Older people are at greater risk. Causes include:

  • Injury
  • Neglect
  • Psoriasis
  • Ill-fitting shoes
  • Poor circulation
  • Fungal infection
  • Arthritis in the toes
  • Altered gait (walking) pattern
Lifted nail plate

If the nail plate lifts off the nail bed, it will appear white. Common causes include:

  • Psoriasis
  • Tinea (a fungal infection)
  • Rough removal of artificial nails
  • Overzealous cleaning under the fingernails
  • Nail polishes that contain hardening chemicals such as formalin

Bacterial infection

The Staphylococcus aureus bacterium is a common cause of bacterial infection of the nail. Typically, the infection first takes hold in the fold of skin at the base of the nail (proximal nail fold). Without treatment, the infection can worsen, leading to inflammation and pus. It is often associated with candida infection, particularly when it becomes chronic.

Activities that predispose a person to a bacterial nail infection include:

  • Having constantly wet hands
  • Overzealous attention to the cuticles
  • Severe nail-biting, which can expose underlying tissues to infection
  • Eczema around the fingernails.

Nail tumors

Nails can be affected by tumors – including squamous cell carcinoma, usually caused by infection with the human papillomavirus (HPV). Melanoma can also affect the nail.

Fungal infection

Fungal infections, such as tinea, are spread from one person to another and can affect the fingernails or toenails. Without treatment, the nail bed itself can become infected. People with diabetes or with compromised immune systems are at higher risk of fungal infection.