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Most women aspire to have beautifully manicured nails, whether painted or clear lacquered. Sadly for a number of women and men nail problems are an intensely embarrassing ailment they would rather keep out of plain view.

How can illness show up in your nails?
Nail abnormalities can manifest themselves in many ways and they can be an indicator of more serious illnesses. Mere fungal infections of the nail can be dealt with by a GP who can administer oral antibiotics and antifungal creams to the affected areas. Signs of infection can initially show up as discolouration and your nails, depending upon the condition, can range from white, yellow, black or green in colour. Nails can be pitted, crumbling, thickened, distorted and even spoon shaped. Whilst most fungal infections develop from a lack of air to the feet other nail conditions can develop from a trauma to the nail, nail bed or a background illness. As an example, iron deficiency in women can result in spoon shaped nails.

What are common causes of nail injury?
Crush injuries to the nail or the base of the nail can in some instances result in permanent damage or deformity. Initially resulting in bruising, the nail can detach and it often takes a full year for a nail to grow back to its original position before the injury.

Beau’s lines are indentations across the nail and these can be the harmless result of an injury or they can signify malnutrition as well as appearing after illness.

Koilonychia results in ridges along the nail and it is often curved and abnormally thin. This condition comes from iron deficiency.

Brittle nails are common as people age but like the other nail diseases they can mask more serious disease.

Aside from fungal infections, viral and bacterial infections can also damage hand and toe nails. Hand eczema or psoriasis can result in chronic scratching or picking and this in turn creates an effect akin to a ‘washboard nail’. Long term exposure to water or nail products can also create this effect and cause nails to become brittle. Heart conditions can result in red streaking along the nail bed which is a marker for haemorrhaging. Other diseases that are shown through nail problems include kidney, liver, hyperthyroidism and skin cancer.

Should any of the above indicators manifest themselves it is prudent to contact a doctor as it will not only result in healthier nails but it could also potentially save your life.

Jonathan Fox writes guest articles for and covers topics on nail care products.