What do your nails say about your health?

A lot, ap­par­ently, in­clud­ing deeper health is­sues that ex­perts tell us not to ig­nore

The Hindu - - HEALTH - :: Deepika Nan­dal

Brit­tle nails

When your nails start to break eas­ily, it’s very likely you’re ex­pos­ing them to ex­ces­sive use of nail paints or just wa­ter (like dur­ing the rains). Easy treat­ment would be to let your nails breathe. Keep them dry and away from harsh soaps. “Ap­ply an Al­pha Hy­droxy Acid (AHA) lo­tion or a cream that has lano­lin in it. You can also start a bi­otin sup­ple­ment for health­ier nails,” says Dr Ki­ran Kaur Sethi, Delhi-based der­ma­tol­o­gist at Isya Aes­thet­ics.

“In some cases, brit­tle nails can also be a sign of iron de­fi­ciency,” she adds. So if it gets se­ri­ous, a der­ma­tol­o­gist may ask for a blood test to make sure iron lev­els are in or­der. In the mean­time, eat iron-rich foods, such as small por­tions of red meat, as well as veg­e­tar­ian sources like spinach bol­stered with vi­ta­min C, to en­sure ab­sorp­tion.

In­grown nails

You know you have the con­di­tion when, “the grow­ing edge of the nail plate buries into the skin at the edges,” says Dr Mo­han Thomas, cos­metic sur­geon at Cos­metic Surgery In­sti­tute, Mum­bai. In the worst cases, this can lead to an in­fec­tion and re­sult in a pus/blood dis­charge. Causes range from a nail in­jury (con­stantly wear­ing shoes that are too small, for in­stance) to a lack of foot hy­giene, or even in­cor­rect footwear that adds pres­sure to the nails, says Dr Thomas. “In some cases, there can be rea­sons like ge­net­ics or di­a­betes,” he says.

When you spot it early, Dr Thomas sug­gests that you soak your feet in warm wa­ter (with Ep­som salt or hy­dro­gen per­ox­ide), fol­lowed by care­fully clip­ping the in­grown nail and ap­ply­ing an an­ti­sep­tic cream to it. Avoid wear­ing tight, nar­row shoes. “If it’s per­sis­tent or when you spot a dis­charge, you might need to see an ex­pert,” says

Dr Thomas. Don’t panic if the word surgery is pro­nounced. It’s a small pro­ce­dure, fol­lowed by reg­u­lar dress­ings and a course of an­tibi­otics.

Ver­ti­cal and hor­i­zon­tal ridges

When you spot ver­ti­cal ridges on your nails, it may be a sign of age­ing. Re-ex­am­ine your diet, and in­crease pro­tein­rich foods such as sprouts. An­other so­lu­tion is to use an ef­fec­tive hand salve/ cream be­fore sleep­ing, to heal the dry­ness and keep your nails mois­turised. You may, how­ever, need to see a doc­tor when there are hor­i­zon­tal ridges on your nails. “The causes can be dif­fer­ent, for ex­am­ple, an in­jury or an in­fec­tion. But, in some cases, hor­i­zon­tal ridges can be due to an un­der­ly­ing con­di­tion like a heart dis­ease, di­a­betes or thy­roid. It can also be caused by a skin dis­ease or vi­ta­min de­fi­cien­cies,” says Dr Thomas. Do see a doc­tor.

White spots

“Called leukony­chia, white spots usu­ally occur for rea­sons like trauma (in the case of in­jury), or a zinc or iron de­fi­ciency. Typ­i­cally, these can dis­ap­pear on their own,” says Dr Sethi. “In rare cases (es­pe­cially when the en­tire nail turns white), it can be a sign of heavy metal tox­i­c­ity such as lead or ar­senic, a liver dis­ease or hy­per­thy­roidism,” says Dr Sethi. If you’re on chemo­ther­apy, you may find them too. See a doc­tor if they don’t dis­ap­pear in a week or two.

■ GETTY IM­AGES/ISTOCK

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