Having clean, healthy fingernails can indicate healthy conditions. But what does it mean when you have white nail beds? When your fingernails are very pale, or even white, that could mean that there is a medical issue that needs to be dealt with. If the issue is with one finger, the problem could be confined to that area. But if the problem is with white fingernail beds on all your fingers, that could indicate a systemic problem in your body that needs to be attended to immediately.
White nail beds might look a little different from one person to another. For example, some people might have very white nail beds but the tips of their nails have an arc of brown discoloration. Others might have partially white nail beds, and some might even have red nail beds. Here are the things you need to know to figure out what causes the problem.
What Causes White Nail Beds?
There are many problems that can cause white nail beds. If it is one finger or several fingers on the same hand, this might be the result of trauma. Getting your hand caught in a door, or otherwise dealing with a "crushing" type of injury could lead to white nail beds.
Another problem might be underlying medical conditions, such as diabetes, which lead to problems with oxygenation of the fingertips. This can make your nail beds look white or even give them a bluish tint. In addition to diabetes, there are other serious medical problems that can lead to white nail beds on all your fingers. This might include malnutrition, severe anemia, cirrhosis of the liver, or kidney disease.
What if you are otherwise healthy? The problem might be a fungal infection. This can make your nails very white, and they can begin to soften. Eventually you might lose the fingernail altogether.
When to Seek Medical Help
Though it is important to mention your white nail beds to the doctor at your next visit, it might not be cause for serious alarm. However, other problems with your nails, in addition to white nail beds, might mean that you should get attention immediately. These include fingernails that are suddenly thickening, distorting in shape, or developing raised ridges. If there is any problem with your fingernails that changes their appearance, your doctor might want to run tests to figure out what the problem is. This can include testing on the nails itself, or blood work to rule out any underlying medical conditions.
What Can Nail Color Indicate?
1. White nail
Remember that if you have white nail beds throughout your life, it probably means nothing – that’s just the way your nails look. But if the change comes on over time, or happens later in life, it might mean that you have a problem need to be diagnosed by your doctor. Such a problem can include renal failure, congestive heart failure, hepatic cirrhosis, diabetes, and some forms of lymphoma.
2. Blue nail
When the nail bed appears to be blue, that is an indication that your fingertip is not getting enough oxygen through the blood that flows there. This might mean you have lung trouble, including emphysema or asthma, or it might be an indication of anemia or other problems with red blood cells.
3. Yellow nail
If your nails are yellow, that could mean a systemic problem, such as diabetes, liver problems, or respiratory trouble. This is especially true if the nail is yellow or orange in color and thickens or curves into the cuticle. This is often a clear sign of pulmonary disease or lymphedema – it is actually called "yellow nail syndrome."
4. Green nail
In most cases, green nail beds indicate a short-term problem, such as an allergic reaction to cleaning agents or something you touched, an infection of the nail itself, or a fungal infection in the area around the nail. But it might also be a sign of advanced emphysema.
5. Grey nail
Nails that turn grey might be indicative of systemic problems that have gone on for a long time, such as lung problems, emphysema, cardio-pulmonary disease, glaucoma or arthritis. It might also stem from malnutrition or edema, also known as swelling or water retention. Some people who have operations wake up to temporary grey nails, but this often resolves quickly.
6. Red nail
Red nail beds are often a serious concern that deserves an immediate trip to the doctor. The problems associated with red nail beds include heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, lung disease, or carbon monoxide poisoning. They might also indicate a brain hemorrhage. Obviously, any of these issues are an emergency situation.
Tips for Caring Your Nails
Keeping your fingernails strong and healthy can help you see immediately if there is a problem. In order to keep nails healthy, follow these tips:
- Always keep your nails clean and dry, and wash your hands often.
- Never pick at your nails or bite them!
- Moisturize your hands every day, paying close attention to the cuticles. Don’t remove your cuticles or clean too deeply underneath your nails.
- When manicuring your nails, file in one direction only and round the tip slightly. Use your own instruments if you get a professional manicure, to help avoid infection.
- Never use nail polish removes that contain formaldehyde or acetone.
- Remember that artificial nails can lead to infections. Clean them regularly and check underneath on a daily basis to look for signs of discoloration.
- Eat a healthy, balanced diet.
- If you use nail polish often, take the time to remove it completely every few weeks to check for problems. Look for changes in color, texture and thickness of the nail.