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Fingernail Discoloration: Causes & How to Deal With It

7 mins

Andela Patrnogic

Despite its prevalence, fingernail discoloration is not much discussed. Here's everything you need to know about the condition and how to get rid of it.

Fingernail discoloration is not something we think about until it hits us. Apart from being a cosmetic issue, it also points to underlying health conditions. 

However, there are ways to reverse the effect of fingernail discoloration, and not all of them involve going under the knife. 

Before you set about reversing fingernail discoloration, it is important to understand what the condition is. You must also know what its ramifications are and how you can avoid them. 

In this article, we will go through everything you need to know about fingernail discoloration. 

Without further ado, let's begin. 

Table of contents

  • What is fingernail discoloration?
  • What causes fingernail discoloration?
  • Chronic health problems and fingernail discoloration
  • Medication and nail discoloration
  • How to deal with fingernail discoloration
  • Cosmetic solutions
  • Healthy lifestyle
  • Do not ignore early symptoms of diseases

What is fingernail discoloration?

As the term suggests, fingernail discoloration refers to losing the natural color of your nails. However, fingernail discoloration is only one part of the problem. 

There are many other factors involved, and often it does not stop at discoloration. 

In medical terminology, there are two separate terms associated with fingernail discoloration. 

These are fingernail deformity and dystrophy. 

  • Fingernail deformity relates to the shape and size of the fingernails. 

  • Fingernail dystrophy refers to discoloration, change in texture, and similar things happening to the fingernails. 

Both fingernail dystrophy and deformity can be a result of external injuries. If you bang your fingernails against a door hinge, it can cause temporary discoloration or permanent deformity. 

However, external injuries are not our subject here. They can happen at any time and are largely a matter of chance. Nobody would intentionally hurt their fingers, and it is safe to assume that everyone wants to avoid external nail injuries. 

What causes fingernail discoloration?

Fungal infection is the major reason behind fingernail discoloration. There are many types of fungal infections that can cause fingernails to change their color to green, blue, and red hues.

Apart from fungal infection, chronic health conditions can also lead to fingernail discoloration. If you have problems in your liver, the effects would show up in your fingernails. The same goes for kidney problems, and even heart issues.

discolored fingernails, discolored nails

It is crucial not to take fingernail discoloration lightly. While nail paint and polish can hide it temporarily, it does not address the core issue. If you focus too much on the cosmetic part of it, you end up ignoring the deeper medical ramifications. 

Trichophyton rubrum is the most common fungi that causes fingernail discoloration. It is the most common reason also because it is found everywhere around us. It can transmit through touch, air, and even dust. 

Pseudomonas is another type of bacteria that causes fingernail discoloration. It turns the nails green or red and often affects the entire nail. Like Trichophyton rubrum, it is also commonly found around us. 

While we cannot avoid getting exposed to bacteria and fungus, we can take simple measures to reduce the risk. Using a hand sanitizer and keeping your hands clean is the first step to take. 

Avoid touching things that come in physical contact with a lot of people. Apart from that, make sure you clean the inside of your nails well, especially if you have long nails.

Chronic health problems and fingernail discoloration

Fingernails do not alter color overnight. Often, the triggers are present in the body for a long time

  • If you see your nails turning pale, it might be due to anemia, heart disease, liver issues, and poor nutrition. However, it does not mean that pale nails always point to some deeper physical problem. Pale nails can also be a natural consequence of aging, for example. But when you see multiple symptoms pointing towards the same thing, it merits attention immediately. 
  • Fungi and bacteria are not the only causes of fingernail discoloration. For instance, hematoma (accumulation of blood under the skin), can result in red and black fingernails. It is different from what you get from an external injury. 
  • Lymphedema is a rare nail condition where the nails turn yellow. Additionally, it makes the growth of nails much slower. Since it is a very rare condition, people do not pay enough attention to it. However, lymphedema can mean underlying issues of the liver.
  • Cyanosis is another condition where the nails appear to turn blue. In cyanosis, the problem is not with the nail itself. Instead, the membrane and skin tissues beneath the nails turn blue due to insufficient oxygenation of blood. As a result, the nails also appear to be turning blue. 
  • Lindsay nails are another condition where the fingernails lose color from the bottom. In this condition, half of the nail turns pale white while the other half turns deep pink or red. Lindsay nails are a direct consequence of an iron deficiency. 
  • When your liver stops functioning normally due to a large number of scar tissues, your nails can turn white. It is known as cirrhosis. Cirrhosis can lead to nail discoloration and often appear in aged people. A similar condition is called Terry Lines where white lines appear on the nails. If you are suffering from liver issues, Terry Lines can be a tale-tell sign. However, they are also a result of aging and do not always point to an underlying liver issue.
  • If you have lines all over your nails, it might indicate the presence of Mees Lines. It is a condition associated with exposure to harmful heavy metals like arsenic and thallium. Since these heavy metals affect the human body in a range of ways, Mees Lines can often signify some more serious ongoing issues of the body.
  • Psoriasis is a common skin disease and many people suffer from it. What many do not know is that psoriasis can also lead to discoloration of nails. Brown and yellow spots can appear under the nails as a result of psoriasis. 

Medication and nail discoloration

What drugs you consume also play a role in nail discoloration. Certain drugs are well known for their ability to change the color of nails. Often, we would consume these drugs as a part of a prescription, without knowing their harmful effects. 

Let's see what these drugs are and how their side effects show up on fingernails.

  • Chloroquine is a common drug for autoimmune diseases. While the drug is useful in many conditions, it also tends to discolor fingernails. Your nails can turn black and blue if you consume chloroquine for a long time or as a prescription drug. If you notice any such change in your fingernails, get in touch with your doctor to discuss the issue.
  • Silver can also lead to discoloration of nails. Most people with exposure to silver usually work in a factory setting with silver. However, some people also have it as a part of dietary supplements. 
  • Exposure to gold can also lead to discoloration of nails. It is very uncommon for people to consume gold as a part of dietary supplements or medicine. However, there are a lot of times when people can be exposed to gold in industries and factories. Gold is very rarely used in the treatment of arthritis, and its use can lead to discoloration of nails.
  • Tetracycline antibiotics can lead to nails turning blue or back. This class of antibiotics is used to stop the growth of bacteria. Many anti-acne medications contain these antibiotics, and they make your nails darker than usual. If you are using these chemicals for acne treatment, consider switching to an all-natural aloe vera or apple cider vinegar face wash from Wow Skin Science. Not only will they keep your skin healthy, but also help in preventing fingernail discoloration.
apple face wash, wow face wash
  • Zidovudine (ZDV) is a common drug for the treatment of HIV. It is also known to cause streaks of discoloration on fingernails. People with AIDs who do not consume Zidovudine (ZDV) can also show the same pattern on their nails. 

As you can tell, drugs play a key role in fingernail discoloration. If you feel that the drugs you consume are leading to discoloration of your nails, consult your doctor and ask for a substitute. 

How to deal with fingernail discoloration

Not many people think about dealing with fingernail discoloration until they are suffering from the condition themselves. 

While there are no clear instructions on getting rid of fingernail discoloration, there are some general principles that you can follow. 

Remember that if you are suspecting something more than a surface issue, it is ideal to consult a doctor. 

If it is nothing more than a cosmetic issue, you take measures accordingly. However, if there are any serious threats, do not make the mistake of neglecting them.

That being said, let's head on to different tips, tricks, and ideas to deal with fingernail discoloration.

Cosmetic solutions

Not every discolored fingernail is a warning bell of some major underlying issue. Sometimes it can be a direct consequence of injuries, restricted blood flow, and so on.

In these cases, you can use cosmetic options until the nail gets back to normal. If the natural color does not return even after a long time, it is time to see a doctor. 

Using nail paints is one of the most convenient ways of dealing with fingernail discoloration. Though it does not eliminate the issue, it makes it much less apparent.

nails, colored nails, manicured nails

However, do not make the mistake of using nail paint as a cover for chronic discoloration of fingernails. You can use it as a temporary solution for social situations where you do not want people to inquire about your fingernails. 

Apart from using nail paints, regular manicures can keep fingernail discoloration issues at bay. It is particularly true for those suffering from fungus-related fingernail discoloration. 

Make sure you finish off the manicure with a high-quality hand moisturizer which will further protect your fingers and fingernails. 

Cosmetic solutions should never be taken as a long-term treatment for fingernail discoloration. These solutions only scratch the surface of the issue and do not do anything for the underlying issues causing the discoloration. 

Healthy lifestyle

Keeping a healthy lifestyle is very important to ensure you do not suffer from fingernail discoloration. 

For example, iron deficiency can lead to many fingernail discoloration problems. If you have a healthy diet, you should not be suffering from iron deficiency. 

Unfortunately, most people do not have a healthy diet. They are at a much higher risk of getting spots and lines on their nails. 

Working out is also a key component of a healthy lifestyle. When you work out for at least thirty minutes every day, you are at a much lower risk of getting cardiac issues.

That in turn plays a role in preventing fingernail discoloration since many causes of discoloration are linked to heart disease. 

Similarly, it is important to keep a check on your partying habits. Too much alcohol can severely damage your liver. A damaged liver is responsible for a host of physical problems, including fingernail discoloration. 

If your overall health is good, you are at a much lower risk of suffering from fingernail discoloration. 

Do not ignore early symptoms of diseases

We often ignore the earlier symptoms of different diseases, be it liver failure or cardiac arrest, or something less serious. That is one of the biggest mistakes that every one of us makes. 

If you get your condition identified and treated at an early stage, you can deal with it much more conveniently. The longer you delay, the more severe the condition becomes. 

Always stay in touch with your doctor and do regular checkups. Whenever there are signs of underlying health issues, try to deal with them at the earliest. It will save you a lot of pain and hassle in the future. 

We hope this guide will help you understand fingernail discoloration with more insight. Equipped with this knowledge, you will be better able to deal with it. 

If you pay attention to the small things, fingernail discoloration will be the last thing to worry about in no time.

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