With our hands being responsible for a large portion of our non-verbal communication and our feet being the foundation of every step we take, it is important to keep both your hands and feet in tiptop shape for both physical and aesthetic comfort. When it comes to foot and hand health, our finger and toenails are an important part of that. Nail conditions such as fungus and discoloured nails can be unattractive and embarrassing. Toenail issues can also be extremely painful leading to issues wearing shoes and walking comfortably.
Discoloured nails can be indicative of a more serious health problem. Problems with our kidneys, liver, heart, and lungs can manifest themselves as discoloured finger or toenails. For this reason, as well as the potential for nail conditions to be quite painful, it is important to see a doctor if your nails become discoloured or a fungus develops.
What are Nail Conditions?
Nails, made of a hardened form of protein called keratin, provide a protective cover for the tips of fingers and toes. Healthy nails are pinkish, smooth and similar in shape. Everyday nail problems – a ripped fingernail or stubbed toenail – are very common. While sore at the time, these usually heal within a few weeks, but if they don’t, medical assistance should be sought.
Signs of Nail Conditions
- Ingrown toenails – surrounded by red, swollen skin
- Fungal infections (onychomycosis) – commonly discoloured, broken, crumbling. thickened, misshapen, detached
- Splitting nails – mostly fingernails, too brittle or soft
- Bacterial infections – often after injury, inflammation, pain
- Psoriasis – often associated with skin findings
What are the Causes of Nail Conditions?
- Skin disease
- Fungi at pools, gyms
- Hands in water too much
- Incorrect nail trimming
- Badly-fitting shoes
- Some medications
- Poor manicure techniques
Nail conditions can be the result of a number of things ranging in severity from ill-fitting footwear to injury, or something more serious like a skin disease. The potential for a nail condition to develop increases with age and can be exacerbated by certain types of medications, fungus acquired while working out at the gym, or getting your nails done in a nail salon where proper hygienic practices are not observed.
When a nail condition does develop, there are a number of treatment options available which can alleviate the pain and discomfort associated with a number of nail conditions.
Who is Affected?
- Potentially everyone – problems increase with age (2)
- Toenail fungus most common nail disease in adults
- Affects 2.2 million Canadians (3)
- Self consciousness
- Nail problems may be a sign of other diseases: liver, kidney, heart, lung, thyroid, anemia, diabetes (1)
Potential Nail Condition Treatments
- Over-the-counter – moisturizers, rubber gloves, nail clippers, nail hardeners
- Prescription medications – antibiotics, antifungals
- Procedures – laser therapy, partial or complete surgical nail removal
If you have noticed a change in the colour of your nail or nail bed, it is important to see your doctor as the condition could be more serious than what it appears.
Note: Certain treatments for medical conditions considered to be elective and/or cosmetic are not covered by Medical Services Plan of BC.
(3) Gupta AK et al. Prevalence and epidemiology of onychomycosis in patients visiting physicians’ offices: a multicenter Canadian survey of 15,000 patients. J Am Acad Dermatol 2000 Aug;43 (2Pt 1):244-8.