Apart from their role in body decoration, nails have medical significance. Many medical conditions can affect the shape or texture of the fingernails.
Brittleness of the nails, meaning that the nails easily become cracked, chipped, split, or peeled, can be observed as a sign of aging or in response to the long-term use of nail polish or exposure to moist conditions (including frequent swimming or dish-washing). Some diseases are also associated with changes in the nails, which can include brittleness. Thin and brittle nails can be a sign of hypothyroidism, for example.
In this condition, the nails are really normal in color but the nail bed, the tissue that lies beneath the nail, is blue. This is commonly called nail bed cyanosis and is a sign of poorly oxygenated blood or more accurately unoxygenated hemoglobin, the oxygen carrying protein in red blood cells.
White nails with a rim of darker color at the tip of the nail is called Terry’s nail and often a sign of a severe liver disease.
Nail pitting is a classical sign of psoriasis in the nail. This appears as tiny holes in the nail surface. Rippling of the nail surface is seen in patients with dermatitis of the fingertips. This can be a result of atopic dermatitis, irritant dermatitis, or allergic contact dermatitis.
Although totally white nails present since birth may be an inherited condition with no implications as to general health, if it occurs later in life, it may be a sign of several systemic diseases, including the liver, renal failure, heart failure, diabetes mellitus or other. But before making any conclusions talk to your doctor.
Split or Cracked Nails
Brittle nails, onychoschizia and onychorrhexis, are often a condition of the elderly. It also occurs after long-term exposure to water or chemicals such as detergents and nail polish. Nails can be strengthened by taking biotin (vitamin B7) supplements, by wearing gloves for all wet work and by frequently applying moisturizing cream to the nails.
If your fingernails curve inwards like spoons (known medically as koilonychia), you may have iron deficiency anemia or the body contains too much iron. Either way you should talk to your doctor.
Fungal Nail Infection
A fungal nail infection occurs when a fungus attacks a fingernail, a toenail, or the skin under the nail, called the nail bed. The nail is brittle and pieces can come away completely. Because of the unusual shape and texture it can be hard to trim. If you don’t treat it, it can spread to other, nearby nails. The treatment includes ointments and/or pills witch eradicate the fungus completely.
As with any unpleasant habit, the cooperation of the patient is necessary to modify the behavior. It would be unusual that this sort of addiction would signal the appearance of some deep underlying psychopathology.
Nails Are Only Part of the Puzzle
Changes in the nails occasionally may signal a significant systemic disease. Most of the time, nail signs are self-limited and tend to resolve on their own. Patience is a necessity in dealing with nails because their turnover is slow. It may take many months for a damaged nail to replace itself entirely.