I’m not one to post other people’s health tips, but when I read the following nail tips from Board certified dermatologist Dr. Ariel Ostad, I thought they were important enough that you would want to know about them too. Please feel free to send this post to your friends, family, FaceBook, etc. and re-tweet it. You could really do someone a huge favor, perhaps even save their life! — Alison
According to Dr. Ostad, visible changes to nails and skin can be indicative of
conditions such as skin cancer or other systemic issues. What you can see can hurt you, but it can also give you a heads’ up that something might be wrong that you should check out. For example, one of Dr. Ostad’s patients thought he had a dry hangnail, but it was actually skin cancer on the patient’s thumb! The following is not to scare you, but to help make you more aware of what’s going on in your body. Please leave your comments!
They can develop in the nail bed, matrix, or nail folds.
Malignant melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, may first be observed as
a long pigmented band of black or dark brown in the nail plate, most often on
the thumb or big toe. And wart-like lesions on the nail fold or in the
nail bed could be squamous cell carcinomas. To help protect your precious fingers:
daily. This is the best way to keep nails from flaking and
cracking. Dr. Ostad recommends lactic acid creams in 5 -12 percent
gloves. European and American women used to wear gloves whenever they
went outside to keep their hands soft and protected. Although that may
not be practical these days, cold weather dries out the nails, so wear gloves
when the elements demand it. Use rubber gloves when working with
cleansers, detergents or solvents.
the cuticle alone. The cuticle is a seal that protects the nail
matrix, and disturbing this seal increases your risk of inflicting permanent
damage. Never remove the cuticle, and don’t trim it or push it back. If you have a wart near your nail, do not pick at it
as it can transform into squamous cell carcinoma. See a doctor if it
doesn’t go away in a few months.
fingers for signs of cancerous growths,”
normally smooth surface of the fingernail has several small dents or pits in
it, that can be a signal that something is going on beneath the nail. Most
often, the cause of those dents is psoriasis. The inflammatory skin
condition—it shows up as red, scaly patches on the skin—can also affect the
skin cells in the nails. Instead of growing out smoothly, the surface of the
nail takes on a dented appearance. Once the psoriasis is treated and under
control, nails will slowly return to normal. Since nails only grow about a
millimeter per week, it will take a few months for the old, pitted nail to
fully grow out and be replaced with a healthy one.
A healthy nail has a specific shape—slightly raised in the middle, then curving
down a bit at the tip. So when you see a nail with the exact opposite
configuration, that should be a clue that all is not right. “Dark nails or
thin, flat, spoon-shaped nails are a sign of iron deficiency anemia,” says Dr.
Ostad. As with many health problems, it can take months of iron
deficiency before the problem shows up in the nails. And when the anemia is
corrected, it will take awhile for normal-shaped nails to re-grow.
protein). Ideally, those layers are sealed together to form a unified, strong
nail. But when nails aren’t protected—your hands are in water a lot, or exposed
to cold, dry air—those layers tend to delaminate. The result is nails that are
likely to peel. Besides being an indication that you need to take better care
of your nails—polish can help seal the layers and moisturizing them several
times a day will keep the layers supple—peeling nails can mean a diet that’s
lacking in linoleic acid. The easiest way to up your intake is to increase your
use of vegetable oils.
estimates, about 20 percent of women suffer from a condition called “brittle
nail syndrome.” While it may sound like just a fancy name for nails that break
easily, the causes go deeper than that. Brittle nails are ones that can’t hold
on to moisture, so the layers of the nail plate dry out and crack. Medically
speaking, it’s possible for an under-active thyroid to cause both dry skin and
brittle nails. Nutritionally, a diet low in iron can cause nails to become
thin, brittle and easily broken (eating more green, leafy vegetables, red meat
and eggs will help boost your iron intake). Biotin supplements (a B-complex
vitamin) have also been shown to improve the condition of brittle nails. The
main culprit of brittle nails? Excessive exposure to water. Constantly wetting
and drying your hands (and nails) can make brittleness worse.
the nails can be an indicator of fungus or psoriasis.” Since any of these
conditions warrants treatment by a doctor, it’s worth seeing a dermatologist if
yellow nails persist. Women who frequently wear very dark nail polish for long
periods of time (especially without using a protective basecoat underneath it)
may also notice a slight yellowing of their nails, but it’s no reason to panic.
The nails are merely stained from the polish and will return to their normal
shade if they are left unpolished for a while.
Palms and Soles. The cartoonish skin hues of carotenemia can
be the unfunny result of an underactive thyroid gland — hypothyroidism —
which causes increased levels of beta-carotene in the blood. Beta-carotene is
an antioxidant, found in fruits and vegetables that normally gets processed by
the thyroid. When there’s a thyroid problem, the gland doesn’t metabolize the
vitamins as quickly, so beta-carotene accumulates. You can also get Technicolor
skin due to beta-carotene buildup thanks to a diet heavy on carrots, carrot
juice, sweet potatoes, and squash. According to Dr. Ostad, “Carotenemia
is caused by a skewed diet isn’t serious and resolves itself when a broader
range of foods is consumed. Hypothyroidism, however, is a medical condition
that can lead to such complications as heart problems, so a combination of skin
changes plus fatigue warrants attention from a doctor.”
Being truly allergic to the sun is pretty rare (although this kind of immune
system response can happen in some people). A more likely explanation
for going outside on a sunny day and coming back with an itchy rash that looks
like hives or eczema is having taken a photosensitizing drug. A chemical in the
medication causes changes that increase the person’s sensitivity to light.
“It’s common in the Northeast to have no problem all winter long, and as
soon as the weather gets nice and folks are outside less bundled up, the rash
appears,” says Dr. Ostad. Check the labels of your prescription
medications. Look for phrases such as “may cause chemical photosensitivity.”
Dr. Ostad advises to use a high-SPF sunscreen or sunblock but know
that this may not prevent the rash; the best advice is to wear sunglasses and a
broad-rimmed hat, cover the skin, and limit sun exposure. Tell your
doctor, too; a switch in medicines may prevent further rashes.
A palm-reading mystic might have her own interpretation, but to a physician, a
deepening of the pigment in the creases of the palms or soles is a symptom of
adrenal insufficiency, an endocrine disorder also known as Addison’s disease.
Hyperpigmentation may also be visible around other skin folds, scars, lips, and
pressure points (knees, knuckles).
sufferers have low blood pressure, which falls further when the person stands.
Salt loss can lead to a craving for salty food. The disease affects men and
women equally but is found most commonly between ages 30 and 50.
According to Dr. Ostad, it’s important to mention this visible
symptom to a doctor, as skin changes may be the first symptoms seen before an
acute attack (pain, vomiting, dehydration, and loss of consciousness, a cascade
known as an Addisonian crisis). Lab tests to measure cortisol (which is
produced by the adrenal gland) provide a diagnosis.
Some of your veins are no longer working properly when you spy ropy,
blue-to-purple lines snaking up your legs. Venous disease — a.k.a. varicose
veins — can be a mere cosmetic annoyance or can cause pain, cramping, and
difficulty walking. Veins rely on one-way valves, like shutters, to keep blood
circulating; when they stop working, blood leaks back into the vein and pools
there. Varicose veins are also sometimes mistaken for spider veins, a
web-like network of smaller blue or red veins closer to the skin’s surface.
Varicose veins tend to be larger, darker, and sometimes raised, with a twisted
appearance. Half of all people over age 50 have varicose veins, especially
women. They often first appear in pregnancy. “Exercise, compression
stockings, and avoiding constricting postures – like crossing your legs when
seated – can help ease discomfort, but they won’t make varicose veins
disappear,” says Dr. Ostad. Not all faulty veins cause problems. However,
if the veins cause pain or become warm and tender to the touch, tell your
doctor. Severe venous insufficiency can lead to dangerous blood clots.
Treatments with good success rates include sclerotherapy (injecting a solution
to shut the vein) and surgery — also options if you just can’t bear how your
legs look at the beach.
The fronts of the legs along the shins tend to bang and bump into things a lot.
For someone with diabetes, the damage to the capillaries and small blood
vessels that are characteristic of the disease will cause them to leak when
traumatized, leading to brown discoloration known as diabetic dermopathy.
The brownish patches may also be rough, almost scaly (although they don’t open
up), and tend to form ovals or circles. They don’t hurt. Another common skin
change of diabetes to look for: An open, unhealed sore on the foot. Diabetics
lose the perception of pain, temperature, and touch on their feet, making them
unlikely to notice common foot blisters — which then go untreated and may
become infected. There’s no health danger from diabetic dermopathy, and
no need for treatment. But if someone who hasn’t been diagnosed with diabetes
shows these signs, it’s worth checking for other signs of diabetes, such as
thirst, excessive urination, tiredness, or blurry vision.
Scratch Raw. Dermatitis herpetiformis (DH) — clusters of
small, ferociously itchy blisters that show up repeatedly in the forearms near
the elbows, the knees, the buttocks, the back, or the face or scalp — are a
hallmark of celiac disease, or an allergy to gluten. As many as one in
four people with celiac disease have DH. The rash appears on both sides
of the body. Itching and burning are so intense you can hardly quit scratching.
People with DH don’t usually have the digestive symptoms of celiac disease, but
they’re intolerant of gluten just the same. DH often shows up between ages 30
and 40, and most often in people of northern European heritage. “Report
the rashes to your regular doctor or a doctor who specializes in skin disorders
to evaluate and rule out other causes,” recommends Dr. Ostad. Blood tests
and a biopsy of tissue from the small intestine are used to diagnose DH. A
gluten-free diet for life is usually advised to keep symptoms at bay; this
includes banishing foods, beverages, and medications that contain wheat,
barley, rye, and sometimes oats. Drugs may help control the rashes.
Be Just a Bruise… What looks a bit like a bruise but tends to hang around
longer may not exactly be a bruise. It has several possible causes, ranging
from a bleeding disorder to scurvy (vitamin C deficiency). But in adults over
age 65, in whom it’s common, the main explanation is thin skin, often made even
more fragile by years of sun damage and weakened blood vessels. “A
substantial excessive intake of aspirin, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories,
vitamin E, or ginkgo biloba, which older adults often take to boost memory, can
worsen the condition,” says Dr. Ostad. Extensive or persistent bruises
should always be evaluated by a doctor, as should someone who seems to bruise
easily. It’s important to rule out underlying causes such as a bleeding
Feeling itchy in more than one specific spot can have many causes, but when
there’s no accompanying visible skin change, it may be pruritis, one of
the first symptoms of lymphoma (cancer of the lymph system). In fact, it’s
known as the “Hodgkin itch” (the two main types of lymphoma being
Hodgkin’s disease and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma). The itchiness is more
intense than that caused by ordinary dry skin. It can be felt generally or,
most commonly, in the lower legs. Less often, the skin also looks reddish and
inflamed. Another common symptom of both Hodgkin’s disease and non-Hodgkin’s
lymphoma is swelling of the lymph nodes in the neck, armpit, collarbone, or
groin. (Note that lymph nodes can swell because of common infections as
well.) Report persistent, intense itching to your doctor.
Only One Side of The Face or Body. An often painful condition called
(herpes zoster) announces itself in this distinctive way. Shingles is caused by
the same virus that gives people chicken pox. In eight out of ten people who
get chicken pox, the virus retreats to the body’s sensory nerves and stays
there. But stress, infection, certain medications (such as those used in
chemotherapy and after transplants), or an aging immune system can reactivate
the virus years later, producing shingles. A burning sensation and sensitivity
to touch often precede the shingles rash by days or weeks (or, in some lucky
people, the pain may be mild). The rash itself first looks like raised
red bumps, not unlike chicken pox, appearing in a band or strip on the trunk,
legs, face, neck — but only on the left or the right side. Within a few days,
the bumps turn into fluid-filled pustules, which crust over a week to ten days
later. “See a doctor as soon as you feel the pain, if you suspect you’re
in a high-risk group,” says Dr. Ostad. Starting antiviral medication
within 72 hours of the rash’s appearance can reduce the severity of the disease
and lower your odds of developing a complication called postherpetic neuralgia
(PHN). In PHN, the searing pain of shingles can continue for weeks, months, or
even years. People older than age 70 are most likely to develop PHN, but anyone
Ostad, MD –