NAILS – Nails at your finger tips
Each and Every one, especially females would like to have beautiful long sharp nails, since nails give beauty to the hands. In this modern sophisticated life, it is driven more cosmetically than for its real use, i.e., many would like to give a polish with different shapes and colours. Some people even go for painting on it. Some would develop the habit of nail bite. Some may use the nail as a tool or for entertainment with finger tapping.
Animals use their nails to hold the prey with firm grip, and also use them to attack the enemy with the piercing & scratching nature. They also get grip and stability from nails while walking or running. On evolution, man had outweighed all the risk of hunting and had started a sophisticated urban life, where the uses of nails are restricted only to fine works. So, humans cut their nails constantly or once in a while on growth, to avoid discomfort. It is just like shedding of dead skin cells.
ABOUT NAILS – Nails are glossy, hard and dense keratin (protein) material which supports finger tips in all its efforts. Even though, it appears as convex smooth surface externally, the inner portion remains concave in nature. Nails grow continuously through life. The colour, shape, smoothness, thickness and strength of the nails differ from one person to another and even differ from one finger to another in a same hand.
PARTS OF THE NAIL – The exposed hard and smooth surfaced nail is commonly called as Nail plate and the inner covered part as Nail bed or Nail root. Nails grow from Nail matrix which lies just beneath the Nail bed. The nail plate is made of hard dense keratin substance projected from the nail matrix. Nail plate safeguards Nail Bed and sensitive nerves in the finger tips. Nail matrix is the most important part for determining the shape and thickness of the nail. The front part of matrix can be noted as whitish half moons (lunula) in the nail plate, near the skin folds. Any damage to matrix will cause deformity to total loss of nail.
Colour – Normally, nails will be transparent, but look rosy in colour because of the blood supply
beneath it. So, in case of reduced blood supply or Anaemia, it becomes paler or white. Also when the nails grow away from nail bed, they will get more thick and more opaque.
Texture – Nails usually have a water content of 10 – 25%, which makes it slightly flexible. They will become brittle, if water content gets lowered – for example in ageing process and contracting diseases. They will also get splits, ridges / grooves, bending & peeling on losing texture.
Growth – It would be surprising to note how it is possible to produce such a hard nail from the smooth skin layer near the nail bed in a continuous manner. It is just a natural process like skin peeling or shedding as in other places, but the compressed and hardened layers of the keratin make the nail harder. Babies’ nails are initially soft in nature, as days/years pass, they become hard. Normally growth rate will be 2-3 mms depending upon the finger / toe. It will take 4-6 months to replace entire nail or in case of Malnutrition, poor blood circulation, serious medical illnesses, extreme low temperature exposures and medications, growth rate can slow down.
Uses – Many people, without knowing the importance of nails, usually think of nails as an item of cosmetic waste product like hair, but they both have their own job in our body, i.e. protection. Nails cover the sensitive nerves in the fingertips and also provide more strength and stability to the fingers / finger tips in doing any fine & strained work. The change in shape, colour, texture & stability gives more idea about our health.
Being faces of the fingers, Nails often speak about the quality and quantity of blood circulation. These ten commandments of hands can also give more idea about the body conditions i.e., anaemia, jaundice, cyanosis (bluish discolouration due to reduced oxygen supply), etc in case of diseases of lungs, heart and liver. Thus it is, that doctors always have a look at the patient’s nails before diagnosis.
CHANGES IN NAILS – The changes often noticed in nails are discolouration, ridges or grooves, clubbing & pitting. Nails commonly get damaged while closing doors of cars or house due to carelessness. But Nails can grow in normal fashion, even if plugged out completely without damaging the nail bed / matrix.
Nail discolouration – Commonly, nails get coloured from colouring agents like Mehandi, Nail polish, Hair dyes, etc. They may also get discoloured due to fungal infection, disease conditions or chemotherapy and heavy steroidal drugs.
- Pale or white nails – indicate Anaemia
- Yellow nails – indicate Jaundice
- Red nail – indicates fresh bleeding beneath the nail
- Purple nails – indicate contusion / stagnation of blood beneath the nail
- Black nails – indicate fungal / bacterial infection or melanoma
- Blue nails – indicate Cyanosis which may be due to lung or heart diseases
- White dots – indicate the presence of air in between the layers of nail. It is commonly seen in Malnutrition or vitamin loss.
Shape often gets altered in many disease conditions.
- Clubbing (roofing of nail near skin fold) – is seen in lung or heart disorders
- Splitting nails – in fungal / bacterial infection
- Thickening of nails – Psoriasis, fungal infection, ageing, etc
- Ridged nails – Ageing, eczema, rheumatoid arthritis, etc
- Spoon shaped nail & Nail Pitting – are common in thinning of nails which may be due to malnutrition and various wasting diseases.
Brittle nails – are more commonly seen in ageing, malnutrition, serious medical illnesses, constant use of nail polish removers, etc
Nail care and Preventing infection – are in our hands
- Always keep fingers and nails dry and clean
- Clean nail pockets often if you have more free edges
- Cut / Shape / Trim nails at regular intervals
Care for nails in all hand work
- Allow more free edges to protrude away from finger
- Do any strained hand work without wearing gloves
- Bite nails
- Use nail polish removers often
- Working continuously in water
- Chemical contacts & strong soaps
- Ill-fitting shoes
- Exposure to extreme cold / hot temperatures
- Using unnecessary drugs
Using it as tool or screwdriver
Nail suffers an array of complaints starting from infection to deformities. The commonest are nail bed infection, in-growing nails and fungal infection. Each and every complaint should be taken care – then and there, or otherwise, left over infection will lead infections to adjacent bones lying beneath it. The common nail complaints are
- Absence / loss of Nail is medically termed as “Anonychia” & Infection of Nail bed is called “Onychia”
- Infection of surrounding part of Nail is called “Paronychia” (Whitlow)
- Atrophy of nail is called “Atrophia Ungium”
- Fungal infection of nail is called “Onychomycosis”
- Hypertrophy or excessive thick nail is called as “Onychauxis”
Dr. S. Chidambaranathan, BHMS, MD (Homeo) 24 E. New Mahalipatti Road Tel: +91-452-233-8833 | +91-984-319-1011 (Mob) E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
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(Disclaimer: The contents of this column are for informational purpose only. The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional healthcare advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of healthcare professional for any health problem or medical condition.)