Are Yellow Nails Really A Health Issue?
Just as your eyes are said to be the windows to your soul, the state of your hands and nails provide
telling signs as to the state of your health. Practitioners of Eastern medicine frequently include nail
examinations as part of the initial diagnosis of their clientele. Western doctors can glean information on
the kind of illness their patients may have from the signs that are evident on the nails of both the hands
Our extremities are frequently the first indicators that something is right or wrong with our bodies and
any unusual discoloration in the nails should raise red flags right away. But before you book an
appointment with your doctor over the slight discoloration on your nail, here are a few things to take
particular note of and what the possible causes are for each one.
Yellow Nails from Excessive Polish Use and Smoking
Having yellow nails is not as strange as some people may think. On the lighter side, yellowing nails are
frequently caused by excessive nail polish use or smoking. There are certain types of harsh polish that
coat the nail surface, block off the nails’ air circulation and deprive them of oxygen. Taking a break
between coloring your nails will give them enough time to recover and regain their natural clear color.
Smoking cigarettes or cigars releases dangerous toxins close to the fingernails and speeds up the
discoloration in both the skin and nails. Cutting down on or completely giving up the smoking habit
would be beneficial not only for your nails but for your body overall.
Yellow Nails from Nail Fungus (Onychomycosis)
On the more serious side, if your yellow nails are accompanied by other more bothersome symptoms
like the thickening of the nail itself, crumbling of the nail edges, flaking of the nail surface and a
somewhat foul odor, these are strong indications of a severe case of nail fungal infection. When our feet
and hands are frequently subjected to warm and moist conditions, these make them the ideal breeding
grounds for the fungus to grow and multiply. The infection could stem from an initial bout of athletes’
foot since the same fungus causes both conditions. You could pick them up from walking barefoot
around gym locker rooms, shower rooms, or swimming pools.
If you frequent a nail salon for a regular manicure or pedicure, and their staff is not particularly
meticulous about sanitizing their tools, you could also pick up the fungus from the tools that were used
on another person who carries the fungus. To prevent this, you could ask the nail specialists to sanitize
the clippers, pushers, and nail baths prior to using them on you. Or you could bring your own personal
set of mani-pedi tools -- ones that you have cleaned yourself. Or you could do your own nails at home
for a little extra effort at no added cost.
If you are diagnosed with onychomycosis, there are several treatment options available to you. Your
doctor may prescribe the application of over-the-counter topical antifungal nail creams or ointments,
many of which are readily found in your local drugstore or even in supermarket aisles. The more
effective ones should contain undecylenic acid which is derived from castor oil. This acid has been
proven scientifically to be effective at treating and killing the nail fungus, especially when paired with
tea tree oil which is antiseptic, anti-inflammatory and anti-fungal as well.
Your doctor could also recommend using an antifungal nail polish that you paint onto the infected nails
and surrounding skin several times a day. This is a less aggressive treatment that could take longer to kill
off the fungi.
More serious cases of nail fungus may require a prescription of oral antifungal medication for a period of
six to twelve weeks. These are particularly potent drugs that will require close monitoring by your
doctor because of the side effects they may pose. They are usually not recommended for those suffering
from liver disease or congestive heart failure.
The most extreme cases may require the surgical removal of the infected nails and the subsequent
treatment of the nail bed to kill off any stubborn fungi that just won’t respond to prior treatment.
Some easy preventive steps can be taken to prevent the acquisition of the fungus in the first place.
These include wearing shoes made of breathable materials, frequent changing of socks, wearing slippers
in the common pool and locker areas, applying antifungal powders or sprays prior to wearing shoes or socks,
disinfecting nail clippers after each use, and avoiding the use of nail polish or artificial nails when
Yellow Nails from Illness
Discoloured nails are also possible symptoms of deeper underlying illnesses or health conditions that
you may not even be aware that you have.
A condition known as “Yellow Nail Syndrome” is sometimes present in people who suffer from
lymphedema (or the swelling of the extremities) or a serious pulmonary disease like chronic bronchitis
or tuberculosis. For them, most if not all of their nails turn yellowish as they grow. This is often due to
the lack of oxygen circulating to the nail bed itself.
If your yellow nails are accompanied by pitting (the appearance of small holes on the nail surface) or
rippling, you may be experiencing an after-effect of psoriasis, eczema, or atopic dermatitis because the
illness has spread from being on the skin surface to below the nail bed where the nails originate.
When a dark spot or dark streak appears beneath the yellowing nail, this could be an indication of the
presence of a melanoma, a deadly form of skin cancer. An immediate consultation with a medical
specialist should help clear the matter up if he or she recommends a biopsy.
What Your Nails Say about Your Health
A lot of times we don’t pay much attention to our nails other than to occasionally trim them. It’s a sad
fact that these parts of our body that we take for granted are often the first indicators of our state of
physical health. With a little TLC and a lot of attention, your nails will be your best gauge as to how well
you are taking care of yourself so you can take the proper steps to keep your body in tiptop shape.
By Sandy Getzky
Sandy Getzky is the executive coordinating editor at The Global Nail Fungus Organization, a
group committed to helping the 100+ million people suffering from finger and toenail fungus.
Sandy is also a registered Herbalist and member of the American Herbalist’s Guild.
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