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10 Nail Changes that Should be Seen by a Dermatologist

If you’ve noticed that your fingernails don’t look quite the way they used to, don’t panic yet. There are a few harmless reasons why nails can change color, such as nail polish, smoking, and certain medications.

However, some nail changes could signal a dangerous condition. Griffin Mansell, PA-C, with the Department of Dermatology at University of Utah Health outlines the conditions you should watch out for. 

If you notice any of these changes to your nails, it’s time to see a dermatologist:

  1. Color changing. While there are some harmless causes of nails changing color, some are a warning sign of diseases, infections, anemia, and even poisoning. Watch out for unexplained changes to blue, white/pale, greenish-black, yellow, or red, which can affect either the whole nail or just parts of it.
  2. A dark streak. Dark streaks on a fingernail or toenail could mean melanoma, so if you notice any, it’s a good idea to get them checked out by a dermatologist right away as they’re easier to treat when diagnosed early.
  3. Nail lifting. If part of the nail detaches and lifts away from the nail bed, it could be a sign of an infection, injury, or psoriasis and should be looked at by a dermatologist.
  4. Redness and swelling. Redness and swelling around a nail might mean you have an infection, which is easier to treat if diagnosed early.
  5. Pitting. If your nails have dents in them that look like they were made by a small, pointed object, it could be a sign of atopic dermatitis, alopecia areata, or psoriasis. Seeing a dermatologist can help treat these diseases and prevent them from worsening.
  6. Yellowing. While smoking or using red nail polish can cause yellow nails, it could also be a sign of rheumatoid arthritis or lung disease. If your yellowing nails are unexplained, getting them checked out by a physician is crucial to your health.
  7. Curving. If your fingernails are curving downward, it’s time to see a dermatologist. Nail curving could be a harmless genetic trait, but it could also be a sign of lung, heart, liver, or stomach/intestinal disease. 
  8. Grooves or gaps. If you notice a deep, horizontal groove in your nails, something caused your nail growth to slow or stop for a period of time. This should be checked out by a physician or dermatologist in order to find the cause and treat it.
  9. Ram’s horn nails. If the nails thicken and become overgrown in the shape of a ram’s horn, it could be a result of a disease such as psoriasis or ichthyosis. These require treatment and management from a podiatrist or dermatologist.
  10. Spoon-shaped nails. If the edges of your nails curve up like a spoon, it may be caused by an iron deficiency. Getting proper treatment can help increase your health and quality of life.

Many nail changes are completely harmless and not cause for concern, but with some of the above signs, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Seeing a dermatologist can help diagnose concerning nail conditions, as well as treat and manage symptoms for happier, healthier nails.