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Common nail disorders

Hands resting on a manicure towel

Nail problems are common but often treatable.

Our nails (a specialized form of skin cells) sit in a dangerous position—out on the tips of our fingers. They're knocked, nicked, scratched and exposed to countless bacteria and fungi.

If you notice a change in the way your nails look or feel, you might have one of these common nail disorders:

  • White spots. Due to an injury to the nail base, these small, semicircular spots often appear on the nails. The spots eventually grow out on their own.
  • Fungal infections. The nail may separate from the nail bed, and debris may build up under the nail. A dermatologist can prescribe medicine for fungal infections.
  • Bacterial infections. The skin around the nail may become red and swollen. In some cases, the nail can turn greenish black. If diagnosed early, the infection may be treated with soaks and antibiotics.    
  • Ingrown nail. A nail becomes ingrown when one corner starts to grow into the skin. This causes redness, swelling and severe pain in the skin next to the nail edge. Ingrown nails often become infected. A serious infection should be treated by a doctor.
  • Splinter hemorrhages. These appear as thin, splinterlike lines of blood under the nail. Splinter hemorrhages may be caused by an injury to the nail or by an infection of the heart valves. If you have splinter hemorrhages and haven't had a recent nail injury, you should see your doctor.
  • Psoriasis. This skin disease can cause nail problems such as pitting, rippling, splitting, crumbling, discoloration of the nail or the skin under the nail, or swelling and redness of the skin around the nail. A dermatologist can diagnose and treat psoriasis.
  • Tumor or wart. These painful growths can occur in any part of the nail, changing its shape or even destroying it. The growths can be removed with chemicals, by freezing or with surgery.

Other changes in the shape, color or growth of nails can be a sign of disease in another part of the body, such as liver disease, kidney disease, heart disease, lung disease or diabetes, according to the American Academy of Dermatology.

A persistent or spreading dark streak under the nail could signal melanoma, an aggressive form of skin cancer. If you notice a dark spot under or next to a nail and it isn't going away, see a dermatologist immediately.

Reviewed 8/21/2023

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