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AAD Investigates Common Nail Disorders

Posted: July 31, 2008

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At the other end of the spectrum, soft and brittle nails are thought to be caused by too much moisture and can affect people of any age. However, soft and brittle nails are more common in young people, particularly those who wash their hands frequently, including medical professionals and chefs. While soft and brittle nails don’t feel dry, they tend to layer more at the end of the nail plate when they chip.

“When we treat brittle nails, we always ask patients if their toenails are affected as well, and most will say no,” said Daniel. “This indicates that if the condition was caused by a lack of something in the body, such as a vitamin or mineral, it also would cause brittleness in the toenails. For that reason, dermatologists believe brittle nails are the result of contact with the environment, particularly work environments due to contact with water, or low or high humidity.”

Typically, hard and brittle nails are treated by adding moisture to the nails, whereas patients with soft and brittle nails need to reduce the amount of moisture that comes in contact with their hands. For example, Daniel recommends people with soft and brittle nails who engage in wet work should wear light cotton gloves under vinyl gloves to keep moisture away from the nails. Latex gloves are not preferred because latex is more irritating and causes the hands to sweat. In general, he said, it is a good idea for patients with either type of brittle nails to wear gloves and avoid irritants.

Nail fungus

Fungal infections, known as onychomycosis, comprise approximately half of all visits to the dermatologist for nail-related problems. Because the infection occurs under the nail plate or in the nail bed, it can be difficult to treat. Fungal infections, which can be white, green, yellow or black in color, often cause the end of the nail to separate from the nail bed, and they may build up under the nail plate and discolor the nail bed. Because the feet are usually confined in a warm, moist environment, toenails are more susceptible to fungal infections.