Healthy fingernails have always been considered to be sign of good health; they tend to be smooth without any discoloration, ridges, deformities, or spots. Nails consist of several layers of a protein known as keratin, which gives protection to the fragile tissues present in the fingers.
The occurrence of white spots on fingernails refers to a condition known as leukonychia. It can be caused due to varied reasons such as diet deficiencies, injuries, allergies, etc. The term leukonychia has its origins in two Greek words, i.e. Leuko meaning white, and Onyx meaning nail. It is a harmless condition and tends to disappear on its own.
Types of leukonychia
Leukonychia has been classified into four different types as per the amount of discoloration and its severity. They are:
- Leukonychia Punctata: It is the most common form and is identified by formation of tiny white spots on fingernails
- Leukonychia Partialis: The fingernails experience partial discoloration or whitening
- Leukonychia Striata: It results in formation of discolored or white stripes on the fingernail.
- Leukonychia Totalis: The complete nail is discolored or whitened
Some of the varied causes of white spots on fingernails are listed below:
- Injuries: One of the most common causes of abnormal white spots on fingernails is an injury. Even minor injuries that may result from mild bruises or a bump against hard objects can lead to development of the white spots. A harsh injury which causes elevated trauma to the affected fingernail can result in formation of blood clots under the nail. Such clots will eventually turn into white spots after some time. Injuries may also arise when clipping or manicuring the fingernails.
- Infections: This condition may also be caused due to fungal or bacterial infection of the nails.
- Drugs: Chemotherapy or intake of certain medications can also result in this condition
- Allergic reactions: Chemicals present in nail hardeners or enamels may trigger an allergic reaction leading to formation of white spots on fingernails.
- Diet deficiencies: Insufficient intake of calcium and zinc can also cause this condition
It may be noted that leukonychia can be an inherited condition or an acquired one. The latter may result from varied diseases such as cirrhosis, typhoid fever, leprosy, medicines, trauma, or hypocalcaemia.
Leukonychia is a harmless condition and the associated white spots tend to vanish on their own without treatment. Patients should however consult a doctor when the discoloration persists or spreads across the nail, as it can indicate the presence of a serious underlying condition.
Normal cases of white spots on fingernails can be treated with changes in diet, good personal hygiene, and taking care to avoid injury or trauma to the nails.
Fungal and bacterial infections of the fingernails can be treated with topical anti-fungal drugs or antibiotic creams. One can prevent such infections by thoroughly washing the hands after being outdoors.