Keeping the fingernails and toenails healthy

A pair of hands
A pair of hands (Photo credit: Towfiqu barbhuiya)

The hands and feet are in constant use, but bad nail hygiene can result in various health problems. According to the Centres of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), good hand hygiene “includes diligently cleaning and trimming fingernails, which may harbour dirt and germs and can contribute to the spread of some infections”. The same should be done for toenails.

Nail fungus, a common nail problem, “causes the nail to become discolored, thick, and more likely to crack and break. Infections are more common in toenails than fingernails,” notes the CDC. The condition is not painful unless it is severe. Some causes include nail injuries, diabetes, weakened immune system and blood circulation problems.

Bryan Dunn (not his real name) is an elderly diabetic patient who developed a toenail fungus infection. “Mi notice seh mi big toenail did look funny, but when mi check it out a fungus”, he said. But he was quick in treating the fungus. “Because of mi condition mi regularly inspect mi foot dem, so when mi see the fungus, it did just start, so mi could a treat it in time,” he added. But the CDC notes that fungus infections can be difficult to cure and is usually cured using antifungal medication taken orally and in several cases the toenail is removed by the doctor.

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Another nail condition is brittle splitting nails. According to the American Osteopathic College of Dermatology (AOCD), this condition is more common in women where the nails become splitting, brittle, soft or thin. It is generally caused by the “repeated wetting and drying of the fingernails. This makes them dry and brittle. This is often worse in low humidity and in the winter (dry heat),” notes the AOCD. 

Rare causes of the nail condition are internal diseases, vitamin, and iron deficiencies.

The AOCD advises the wearing of gloves when performing household chores that involve getting the hands wet and taking Biotin (a vitamin) by mouth which is beneficial in some people. While brittle nails affect women mostly, ingrown nail disease affects everyone.

Oliver Gordon (not his real name) suffered an ingrown toenail that had to be treated. “My big toe got swell and around it was very red and tender, when I go to the doctor him seh mi have ingrown toenail,” said Gordon. “I could not wear shoes for the whole time and had to keep it very dry,” he added.

The American Academy of Orthapaedic Surgeons (AAOS) says, “If you trim your toenails too short, particularly on the sides of your big toes, you may set the stage for an ingrown toenail and may also happen if you wear shoes that are too tight or too short,” This disease can be treated by soaking the foot in warm water and if severe, surgery. The CDC recommends that fingernails and toenails are kept “short and underneath the nail washed frequently with soap and water,” to prevent nail health problems.

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