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What Is Leukonychia?

Getting a manicure can cause leukonychia.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 23 September 2014
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Leukonychia is a white discoloration of the fingernail. It may cover the whole nail in leukonychia totalis, or it may appear in the form of stripes or spots on the nail. There are a number of reasons why people can develop leukonychia. Sometimes it is entirely harmless, while in other cases it may be a sign of an underlying medical problem. Sudden changes in the color of the nails may be cause for a doctor's appointment or a phone consultation with a doctor or nurse practitioner to determine whether or not an appointment is necessary.

In many people, these white spots are perfectly harmless. Some appear to be hereditary in nature. Others have to do with problems which occur during keratinization, the process of making new fingernail material at the base of the nail in the area known as the matrix. Air bubbles can cause leukonychia and damage to the nailbed can also lead to the development of white spots. Sometimes the spots don't show up immediately, in which case the marks may be startling, but they are still not a cause for concern.

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Sometimes leukonychia is a sign of a more serious problem such as a nutritional deficiency. Changes in nail color are also associated with ill health, especially circulatory conditions like heart failure, although usually the condition has already been diagnosed so the leukonychia is not a diagnostic sign. It can also be evidence of a bacterial, fungal, or viral infection in the nail, or of exposure to toxins such as arsenic.

If someone in otherwise good health develops leukonychia and risk factors such as recent trauma to the fingers, receiving a manicure, or attending a gym, where people can commonly pick up fungal infections, are not in evidence, it may be a sign of a nutritional deficiency or another medical problem. A doctor can provide an evaluation to check for conditions which might be causing leukonychia but going otherwise unnoticed and make treatment recommendations. For onychomycosis, a fungal infection of the nail, for example, antifungal medications can be prescribed.

Leukonychia may be aesthetically undesirable. Painting the nails can conceal the white spots, and sometimes making dietary changes can help to resolve the spots. Eating a well balanced diet with lots of vitamins and minerals can promote healthy nail growth, which can resolve the spots as the nails grow out. Others choose to embrace the small spots as normal variations.

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Monika
Post 4

@indemnifyme - That's good. However, if you ever develop leukonychia and you know you've been eating right, I'd recommend seeing the doctor.

A friend of mine developed these white spots as the first sign of a fungal infection. She didn't do anything about it because she thought it was no big deal, but the infection ended up progressing quite a bit. It was very unsightly by the time she actually went to the doctor!

She had to take a pretty long course of anti-fungal medicine, and the fungus took weeks to go away! I can't help but thinking the healing process might have been a bit shorter had she caught it earlier!

indemnifyme
Post 3

I've had white spots on my nails on and off for many years. I never knew there was an actual name for the condition! I also had no idea those spots could have anything to do with your health. Very interesting.

Anyway, I'm not too worried about my own health because I don't have any spots on my nails rights now. Also, looking back, I'm pretty sure I only had those spots at times when I wasn't eating properly. So I'm pretty sure the spots were related to some kind of dietary deficiency on my part.

John57
Post 2

My daughter had a terrible habit of biting her nails. We bought some terrible tasting polish that she was to put on her nails hoping it would deter her from always biting her nails.

It did taste pretty nasty and might of worked if she had left it on long enough. After a few weeks of using this, she developed white spots on her nails that had not been there before.

These spots eventually grew out with her fingernails and didn't come back. She kept some polish on her nails to cover them up and help her nails look a little better.

As she got older she was able to stop the nail biting habit and has beautiful nails today.

Mykol
Post 1

I have always heard that your nails can be a good indication of your overall health. I think there is a lot of truth to that statement.

I used to have small leukonychia spots on many of my fingernails. I began taking a B complex supplement on a regular basis and most of the white spots went away.

I still get a spot or two every once in awhile, but not very often. I have always wondered if constantly keeping fingernail polish on your nails can contribute to nail diseases.

It seems like your nails need to be able to breathe every now and then, and it would be a good practice to keep them free of polish once in a while.

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