Typically, a healthy finger or toenail should be pink-coloured, with the nail plate being pink – and the colour changing to white as the nail grows off its plate. However, white spots can sometimes appear on the nail due to different reasons. So, what are the white spots on your nails?
The condition is recognised medically as Leukonychia and appears as white spots or lines on fingers or toenails. It is a common condition among many adults. Luckily, it is entirely harmless and some people may not even realise they have them.
White spots on one’s nails often appear on their own and may disappear after a while, even without intervention. They aren’t a sign of a severe medical condition, so there is no reason to get alarmed with their appearance.
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Types of Leukonychia
There are two primary types of leukonychia:
- Total leukonychia
- Partial leukonychia
Total leukonychia is where the entire nail plate changes from pink to white, while partial leukonychia appears as white spots on the nail. For some people, the dots may be tiny and speckled across the nail, but others can have larger and stretched spots. They can appear on one or several nails at once.
What causes white spots on nails?
As we already mentioned, there are several different types of leukonychia. Equally, there are different factors that lead to these white spots, depending on the type. Here are some of the common reasons behind white spots on your nails.
One of the leading causes of white dots on nails is trauma to either the nail plate or the matrix. These two represent the base, where the nail grows from. If you accidentally hit your nail in this area, you will disrupt the horizontal layers of keratin. That results in air trapping, which causes reflection, affecting the nail’s transparency.
Trauma to the nail plate can occur in various ways, including nail-biting, pedicuring, manicuring, wearing tight shoes, shutting a door or window on your finger or accidental hits on the nail. Spots caused by trauma tend to go away on their own, although it takes a while – usually around 6 to 9 months.
The appearance of these spots often depends on the intensity of the trauma inflicted. For instance, damages caused by manicuring are less severe than those resulting from a hit on the nail using a hammer. In some cases, total leukonychia may occur if the injury is really severe.
Systemic health issues
Another cause of white dots on nails is systemic illness. Although it is a rare case, the spots can appear as a result of a problem somewhere else in the body. These systemic illnesses include:
- Kidney disease
- Liver cirrhosis
- Heart failure
- Zinc deficiency
Besides a systemic illness, fungal disease or infection around the nail can lead to leukonychia. Chronic fungal infection can cause partial or total whitening of nails, medically known as superficial white onychomycosis.
Apart from white patches, fungal infections around the nails can make them thick and brittle. In extreme cases, they may become flaky.
In rare cases, white dots on nails can result from genetics. Some babies are born with white spots on their nails or they appear shortly after birth. That may indicate leukonychia came from the parents. However, as mentioned – this is a rare case.
Drugs or poisoning
In rare cases, white spots on nails can appear as a side effect of medication or as a symptom of poisoning.
White spots may be caused by the treatment of bacterial infections, such as skin and urinary tract infections, using sulphonamides. Chemotherapy, whether oral, injection or infusion, can also be a factor.
Finally, heavy metals such as arsenic can lead to poisoning that cause leukonychia.
In some cases, you might get white dots on nails due to an allergic reaction to a particular nail polish, gloss hardener or polish remover. Besides that, in rare cases acrylics or gels can badly damage your nails, leading to leukonychia.
Leukonychia prevention tips
Even though white dots on nails are entirely harmless, they can be aesthetically displeasing. If you are one of the people who value the aesthetics of their nails, you can take a few measures to avoid the appearance of leukonychia.
- Try a different type of nail polish: if white spots appear on your nails when you use certain nail polish, you may need to switch to a different option for a few weeks. For instance, if you are used to regular nail polishes, you can switch to a water-based option to eliminate the risk of a chemical reaction.
- Be mindful of physically injuring your nail: Direct hit to the nail plate or buffing nails too hard can result in leukonychia. So, it may be a good idea to avoid these where possible. For instance, you should ask your pedicurist or manicurist to go easy on your nails the next time you visit a spa. Additionally, you can wear protective gloves the next time you are handling handyman jobs.
- Treat fungal infections early: If fungal infections around the nail area aren’t treated in time, they can lead to white spots. Therefore, it may be a good idea to have them checked as early as you notice the first signs. Additionally, you can use a topical nail lacquer to prevent the development of these infections.
Diagnosis of white dots on nails
Whether your white spots are frequent or infrequent, it is vital to have them diagnosed. You might not need a doctor’s intervention if you are sure what is causing leukonychia in your case. For instance, if you recently hit your nail with a hammer and there is a substantial white part on your nail a few weeks later, there is no need to visit a doctor.
However, if the spots are becoming worse with time without an apparent reason, you might need to seek the help of a professional. Curing white dots on nails becomes easier once you’ve figured out what is causing them. When you visit an expert, they will examine your nails and prescribe a treatment based on their findings. You can consult a few experts if you are not confident with the first diagnosis.
How to get rid of white spots on nails
As we already mentioned, the treatment for white dots on nails depends on the underlying cause. Therefore, the treatment procedures would be different from one person to another.
So, how do you treat leukonychia?
Leukonychia caused by trauma
If the white spots on your nails result from direct trauma to the nail bed, you do not need to apply any treatment. The white spots would move up the nail bed as the nail grows. After a few months, they will disappear entirely.
Leukonychia caused by a fungal infection
If you have white dots on your nails due to a fungal infection, you might need to get antifungal treatment. In most cases, a doctor would prescribe an oral antifungal treatment after diagnosis. These antifungal treatments often take up to three months to eliminate white spots from your nails.
Leukonychia due to allergic reactions
For nails spots that appear due to allergic reactions to certain nail polish, gloss, or any other product, the best treatment is to switch to alternatives. That should help eliminate the spots. However, you might need to see an expert if you still have the spots after you stop using the products you are supposedly allergic to.
White spots on nails are usually entirely harmless. Apart from a few cases, they rarely signify a bigger problem. However, they can be aesthetically unpleasing. That’s why many people strive to get rid of them as soon as they appear. There are several different types of treatments available for leukonychia in the market today.
Sometimes, these white spots may disappear on their own after a while. However, you might have to seek the help of an expert if the symptoms persist for long.