Nail Disorders Could be Telling You Something About Your Health

Author: Dr. Kwan Zhenli Dermatologist

Yes, nail disorders can actually serve as an indication of your current state of health. These disorders may be the manifestation of an infection, or part of an inflammatory skin disease. Some of the common symptoms include an untoward change in appearance such as discolouration, deformity, thickening, ridges or brittle nails. Some cases may present itself as yellow, white, black or brown spots, while others can present itself as dark lines on the nails. 

What Are Nail Changes Telling Us?

Fungal infections are the main cause behind most nail changes. We call these onychomycosis. It can either be caused by dermatophytes (fungi that require keratin for growth), or Candida albicans (a yeast species). Other common nail conditions include ingrown nails, Pseudomonas nail infection, psoriasis, eczema, lichen planus and alopecia areata. Other nail changes may even indicate nutritional, liver or kidney problems. Acral melanoma is an aggressive form of skin cancer that presents as dark spots or lines affecting digits and nails, especially if it involves the nail fold.

Risk factors for nail fungal infections include a weak immune system, associated skin conditions such as atopic eczema or psoriasis, diabetes mellitus, occlusive footwear, poor blood circulation, a warm or moist environment, and use of shared showers or locker rooms. Atopic eczema and psoriasis, on the other hand, possess a genetic component. 

How Can We Treat Nail Disorders?

Onychomycosis, can be treated using topical agents such as amorolfine lacquer and systemic agents which include terbinafine, itraconazole and fluconazole (for Candida infections). Surgical removal of a nail can be considered if it becomes too thick and is unlikely to respond to treatment. However, cure rates of recovery after nail removal may not justify the discomfort caused by surgery. There are also cases involving the use of laser and photodynamic therapy. However, more proof of effectiveness is required before these treatment modalities can be safely recommended. Preventive measures after suffering from onychomycosis include topical antifungals (creams, lotions or powders), antiseptic gels, and use of your own sterilised instruments for manicures and pedicures. Additionally, you should set aside two nail clippers – one for infected nails, and a separate one for healthy nails.

You can treat ingrown nails by using conservative measures such as cutting nails straight across, using cotton wisps or plastic tubing, or taping to pull lateral nail folds away from the nail. If these measures prove ineffective, then surgery may be required. 


Changes in nail appearance due to inflammation, on the other hand, have to be addressed individually. In the event that a doctor suspects melanoma, further scans and surgery may be recommended. 

How Do We Prevent the Occurrence of Nail Fungal Infection?

The best way to prevent a nail fungal infection is to keep nails short, dry and clean at all times. When caring for toenails, it is important that you use well-fitting shoes, and to change your socks every day. Avoid the use of high heels and shoes with narrow toes. Keep your feet dry at all times. You can also opt to apply anti-fungal powder on socks and shoes. Also, when using a communal shower, consider the use of clean shower shoes.


For some, treating a nail fungal infection can be difficult, especially when the prescribed medication does not work. It is important that you see a doctor to get the right diagnosis instead of treating the condition yourself. Additionally, people with diabetes are at a greater risk of developing potentially serious complications caused by these infections. Therefore, it is best to avoid taking any chances if you think that you may be developing an infection.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.


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Review Date: November 27, 2019 | Last Modified: December 5, 2019

Dr. Kwan Zhenli Dermatologist
Dr. Kwan Zhenli is a consultant dermatologist at University Malaya Specialist Centre and University Malaya Medical Centre ...
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Dr. Kwan Zhenli Dermatologist

Dr. Kwan Zhenli is a consultant dermatologist at University Malaya Specialist Centre and University Malaya Medical Centre. She obtained her Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS) from the University of Malaya in 2008 and Membership of the Royal Colleges of Physicians of the United Kingdom (MRCP) in 2010.  In 2016, she graduated from the National University of Malaysia (UKM) with the Advanced Master of Dermatology (Adv M Derm) and subsequently within the same year she obtained the Specialty Certificate in Dermatology (United Kingdom). Her areas of interest are psoriasis and skin cancers.

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