What causes nail problems and how to treat them?

Symptom Database

Nail problems can be a source of frustration and discomfort for many individuals. From brittle nails to fungal infections, there are a variety of common nail problems that can affect the health and appearance of our nails. Understanding the causes of these issues and how to treat them is essential for maintaining optimal nail health. In this article, we will explore the different nail disorders, their symptoms, and effective treatment options.

Brittle Nails

One of the most common nail problems is brittle nails. Brittle nails are characterized by nails that easily break, split, or peel. This condition can be caused by a variety of factors, including:

  • Excessive use of nail polish remover
  • Exposure to harsh chemicals
  • Dehydration
  • Nutritional deficiencies

To treat brittle nails, it is important to keep them moisturized. Applying a nail moisturizer or cuticle oil regularly can help improve nail flexibility and prevent breakage. Additionally, wearing gloves while doing household chores or using harsh chemicals can protect the nails from further damage.

Yellow Nails

Yellow nails can be unsightly and may indicate an underlying issue. Some common causes of yellow nails include:

  • Fungal infections
  • Smoking
  • Excessive use of nail polish

If the yellowing is caused by a fungal infection, it is important to seek medical treatment. Antifungal medications or topical treatments may be prescribed to eliminate the infection. Avoiding smoking and reducing the use of nail polish can also help prevent yellowing of the nails.

Ingrown Nails

Ingrown nails occur when the edge of the nail grows into the surrounding skin, causing pain, redness, and swelling. This condition is often caused by:

  • Improper nail trimming
  • Trauma to the nail
  • Wearing tight shoes

To treat an ingrown nail, soaking the affected area in warm water can help reduce inflammation. Gently lifting the edge of the ingrown nail and placing a small piece of cotton or dental floss underneath can also provide relief. In severe cases, surgical intervention may be necessary to remove the ingrown portion of the nail.

White Spots

White spots on the nails are a common concern for many individuals. Contrary to popular belief, these spots are not always a sign of a calcium deficiency. In fact, they are often caused by minor injuries to the nail bed. These injuries can occur from activities such as nail biting or banging the nails against a hard surface.

White spots on the nails will typically grow out on their own as the nail grows. However, practicing good nail care habits, such as avoiding excessive nail biting and protecting the nails from trauma, can help prevent the formation of these spots.

Nail Fungus

Nail fungus, also known as onychomycosis, is a common nail condition that affects many individuals. It is characterized by thickened, discolored nails that may become brittle or crumbly. Nail fungus is caused by the overgrowth of fungi in, under, or on the nail.

Treating nail fungus can be challenging, and it often requires a combination of topical and oral antifungal medications. It is important to follow the prescribed treatment regimen consistently to effectively eliminate the infection. Additionally, practicing good foot hygiene, such as keeping the feet clean and dry, can help prevent the recurrence of nail fungus.


Nail problems can be both frustrating and uncomfortable, but with proper care and treatment, most issues can be resolved. Whether it is brittle nails, yellow nails, ingrown nails, white spots, or nail fungus, understanding the causes and implementing appropriate treatment measures is essential for maintaining optimal nail health. By following the tips and recommendations provided in this article, individuals can effectively address their nail concerns and enjoy healthy, beautiful nails.

Haroon Rashid, MD
Rate author
Urgent Care Center of Arlington, VA
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