While nail discoloration can be harmless most of the time, there are some cases where you should definitely get it checked by a doctor.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published on April 25, 2022. It has since been updated.
Have you ever paid close attention to your nails?
A healthy nail is pinkish, strong, smooth, without pits or grooves, and uniform in color. They don't typically havw spots or discoloration. Nail conditions can be prevented with a healthy nail care practice, but there are times when your nail reveals underlying health conditions. If you see ridges, dents, or areas of unusual color or shape, you should consult your doctor about it.
Sometimes, vertical ridges that run from the cuticle to the tip of the nail are normal. They become more common as we age and there are times you see white lines or spots, which could be due to injury and should eventually vanish.
Dr. Mark Benor, clinical assistant professor of family medicine at Keck School of Medicine, told Healthline, "My job is reassuring people that their nail issues usually don't bespeak a serious underlying illness. The family medicine clinic is full of patients with nail findings of no significance outside of the anxiety they create."
However, not all nail conditions are normal, according to Mayo Clinic. You should be seeing a doctor or dermatologist if you see discoloration in the entire nail or a dark streak under the nail, thickening or thinning of the nails, separation from the surrounding skin, bleeding, swelling or pain, and if the nails don't grow.
If you experience discoloration, the different colors of the nail would mean different things for your health. This is what the different colors mean:
There can be multiple reasons for yellow nails, which are relatively common. It could be an infection or a reaction to a product, like nail polish for instance, according to Healthline. This can be treated with tea tree oil or vitamin E for infection. The larger issues that make nail color go yellow are lymphedema, lung disease or psoriasis, according to the Canadian Dermatology Association.
A nail with green discoloration is usually called green nail syndrome. It's caused by bacteria called Pseudomonas aeruginosa. The discoloration can be blue-green to dark green to bluish-grey. It can occur on fingernails or toenails and isn't painful usually. However, the area around the nail like the cuticle may be swollen, tender, or red, according to the American Osteopathic College of Dermatology. Moisture can cause bacteria to grow. So, if you're using jacuzzis, contact lens solution, sinks, and bath sponges, make sure they are clean.
Black nails are usually a sign of a pseudomonas infection, a common bacterial infection, but it can also be caused by extreme bruising. A black nail can also indicate a larger issue like a subungual melanoma or cancer of the nail. In the case of the latter, there would be one stripe on one fingernail only, according to Medical News Today.
If you have white nails, it could be because you inherited it or due to low albumin (protein deficiency). If you have hurt your nail then a white streak may develop due to that trauma. However, a major condition like vitiligo can also lead to your nails turning white.
Brown discoloration in the nail can be caused by nicotine use, nail polish or even chemotherapy, according to the Canadian Dermatology Association. Quitting smoking and reduced use of nail polish can clear it up as new nail grows, according to CNN.
If you see your nail turning red or purple, it could be caused due to an injury. However, if you see streaks it could be caused by a splinter hemorrhage. It occurs when tiny blood vessels under the nail break.
If your nails are turning blue, it could be due to the use of minocycline (antibiotic) and many other oral medications. It can be also due to less oxygen in your blood called cyanosis. This condition turns the skin or membrane below the skin a purplish-blue color, according to Healthline. Cold temperatures can also cause your nails to turn blue since they constrict blood vessels.