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What Your Nails Can Tell You About Your Health

Take a minute to really look at your nails, and you might discover you need more than just a manicure.

Did you know your fingernails can often give you clues when something's not quite right? It's true, they're like little portals to our health and we should take good care of them.

No biting or bad filing, please.

While it may be anything from damage done by manicures or a serious illness, if you notice any significant changes, like discolouration, swelling or changes in the shape of your nails, see a dermatologist or doctor quick sticks. "The nails may be a window into a range of systemic diseases," consultant dermatologist and Senior Conjoint Lecturer with the University of New South Wales Dr Deshan Sebaratnam told 10 daily.

Image: Getty
"Often the skin and nails may be the first thing a doctor looks at during a physical examination.

"There are certain clues such as spoon shaped nails which can indicate iron deficiency or 'half and half' nails which are half white and half pink which can be seen in advanced kidney disease," he said.

The nail file

Yellow nails: Often, nails can go yellow as they react to a product you're using, like nail polish or acrylic nails. If you're a fan of shellac nails, SNS, weekly manicures and nail art, give your nails a breather (experts suggest no more than two manicures a month) and use tea tree oil or vitamin E to help nourish your nails naturally. If they don't grow in clear after that, the yellowish tint may be caused by something else, like a fungal infection. One nail technician recommended soaking them in Listerine or apple cider vinegar for 10 minutes a day as a way to fight that. Badly discoloured nails can be a product of drug use, too, so check with your doctor.

READ MORE: How To Remove A Gel Manicure At Home Without Destroying Your Nails

Image: Supplied

Dented nails: Dents on the surface of your nails may signal psoriasis, a chronic skin condition that causes a scaly rash. Said Dr Sebaratnam,"There are many nail changes which may be seen in patients with psoriasis. These include pitting (small divets within the nail), brown discolouration of the nail or buildup of scale underneath the nail."

White spots: A trauma (like smacking your finger against the table or shutting it in a door) is often what causes light-coloured spots on the nail, called punctate leukonychia. Thankfully, they'll eventually disappear. If the spots continue to stick around, check in with your doctor: There may be an underlying issue, like a zinc deficiency, at play.

Black streaks: This can be a serious one -- see your doctor right away if you notice any dark or black discolouration on your nails, especially if it feels painful. Melanoma can sometimes cause black lines or stripes to appear on the nail -- but don't self-diagnose. "A dark stripe can represent melanoma of the nailbed but can also be caused by drugs or may be an innocent finding in people with darker skin," said Dr Sebaratnam.

Brittle nails: Nails that chip or feel dry and brittle could be a sign of iron-deficiency, and nails that are always peeling or splitting could mean you just need to up your iron intake -- think red meat, molasses, or iron supplements. But that's not all. "Brittle nails can be caused by a range of conditions including systemic diseases, medications and nutritional deficiencies. Treatment depends on the underlying cause," said Dr Sebaratnam.

READ MORE: Man With World's Longest Fingernails Finally Cuts Them After 66 Years

Image: Getty

Flaking: "Fungal infection of the nail is known as onychomycosis," said Dr Sebaratnam. "It can present with discolouration of the nail as well as flaking. There may also be evidence of a fungal infection (ringworm) on other areas of the skin. Creams and ointments are usually ineffective -- most patients with nail disease require tablet treatment for several months to achieve clearance."

Nailed it.

Feature image: Getty