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Your fingernails are on public display, visible as you talk, eat and work. If you are a “nail biter”, your obsessive compulsive habit advertises to the world your stressful lifestyle. And bad nails do not sit well with designer clothes.
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Nail biting (medical term, onychophagia) is a common habit. It helps relieve stress and cope with excitement and boredom. It is a habit learnt by observation and runs in families. About half of all children aged 10-18 bite their nails. A small number (three per cent), of which more are males, continue this habit into adult life. Nails become disfigured and the nail beds get damaged. This can result in infection. The habit has to be consciously stopped. Difficult? Try painting the nails with a bitter nail polish.
Nails are very strong and are composed of three multicellular layers of tissue sealed together. They can be cut across but not lengthwise. Since they grow daily — about a millimetre a week — most diseases affecting an individual are reflected in visible changes in the nails. Heavy metals and toxins become deposited in the nails and remain there till the nails grow out. Poisoning with lead, thallium and arsenic can be diagnosed this way.
Healthy nails are normally slightly curved upward. The shape changes and nails become spoon shaped in case of iron deficiency anaemia. With the correction of the deficiency, the nails become normal.
Twenty per cent of women suffer from a condition called brittle nails — when the nail plate is dry, delaminates (that is, splits into thin layers) and cracks easily. This occurs with iron deficiency anaemia and is aggravated if the hands are frequently immersed in water for prolonged periods. It can be corrected by taking iron supplements and moisturising the nail several times a day. Proprietary moisturisers — many of which are overpriced — are available in the market. A homemade preparation of 50 per cent jojoba oil and 50 per cent aloe vera or a mixture of 500ml coconut oil, 500ml sesame oil and 100ml olive oil can be used. They work just as well.
An exaggeration of the normal nail curvature is called clubbing. It makes the nails resemble a parrot’s curved beak. This is found in people who have emphysema, chronic lung diseases and heart disease. The nails may also be blue because of inadequate oxygenation of the blood.
Fingernails are normally smooth and shiny. They can develop multiple small dents or pits if there is a disease like psoriasis. As the disease is brought under control, the pits disappear.
White lines or dots can appear on the nails of otherwise healthy individuals. Usually it is harmless. The dots may have been caused by injury to the nail bed. Since it is visible only after the nail grows out, the injury may have been forgotten and the patch may be a cause of concern. Dots can also appear in people with eczema or in nutritional zinc deficiency. Zinc is present in fish, chicken and whole grains. The daily requirement is 10-15mg. Supplements are freely available in vitamin and mineral capsules. A white line or a dark coloured line can occur as a result of injury to the growing cells in the nail bed. This marks the date of an illness or a course of antibiotics.
Fungal infections can occur in the nail. Then the nail becomes separated from the underlying skin, starts to lift up and a crumbly white substance is seen underneath. Bacterial infections cause the nail to appear green. Diabetes also can cause either of these.
Cutting the nail too close to the skin can introduce infection. Salons offering manicures or pedicures sometimes do not sterilise their instruments properly. Small cuts and nicks during the procedure can introduce infections. Infections can be aggravated by immersion in water. A doctor should be consulted if there is sudden swelling or pain in the nails a day or two after a manicure.
Nails will reflect the underlying illness and this sometimes cannot be camouflaged even with nail polish. To strengthen normal nails, avoid infections and improve their appearance:
• Use rubber gloves when immersing the hands in water.
• Avoid nail biting or picking.
• Apply moisturiser to your nails and cuticles every day.
• File your nails in one direction and round the tip slightly, rather than filing to a point.
• Don’t remove the cuticles or clean too deeply under your nails.
• Don’t dig out ingrown toenails at home using unsterile blades and knives.
• Avoid nail polish removers that contain acetone or formaldehyde.
• Take your own instruments for manicures and pedicures.
• Eat a balanced diet with sufficient protein and vitamins.
Source:The Telegraph (Kolkata, India)