What is it? The nails of a client with yellow nail syndrome will have some or all of these characteristics: They will be thicker than normal and they may have a dark, greenish edge. They will grow slower than normal. A secondary result of the slow growth will be ridges or lines in the nails. There will be a pronounced, almost exaggerated curve to the nails. All the nails will be affected. Some of the nails may have onycholysis (separation of the nail plate from the nail bed), and the cuticle will be absent. In order to receive a medical diagnosis of yellow nail syndrome, two of these three conditions must be present: changes to the nails, chronic respiratory disorders, and primary lymphedema.

How do you get it? While the exact cause of this condition is unknown, it has been shown to run in some families, which suggests a possible genetic component. Yellow nail syndrome is most often associated with health conditions involving lymphedema or diseases of the lung. Lymphedema is the swelling that occurs when a blockage in the lymphatic system prevents the lymph fluid in the arm or leg from draining adequately. Yellow nail syndrome may also be present in clients who suffer from pleural effusion. A membrane called the pleura lines our chest cavity and surrounds each of our lungs. When fluid accumulates between the layers of that membrane, pleural effusion occurs.

How is it treated? Because it is not considered a distinct condition, no treatment exists for yellow nail syndrome. Under the care of a doctor, conditions such as lymphedema or respiratory problems that are present alongside yellow nail syndrome may have treatment options. These include physical therapy, prescription medications, or even natural alternatives. Yellow nail syndrome can clear up once the other condition has been treated.

What can a tech do? If a doctor has confirmed the presence of yellow nail syndrome, a tech must determine the appropriate option for the client’s nails. Remember, a common result of yellow nail syndrome is onycholysis. If a client’s nails are separated from the nail bed, do not apply an enhancement. If the nails and skin are uncompromised, you can manicure or pedicure the nails and apply polish. Enhancements can be applied with care, but don’t jump to this option too soon. The nails will already have an exaggerated curve and extra thickness, so if the client isn’t a nail biter, a natural nail manicure may be the best choice for her.

What else? If you suspect a client’s yellow nails results from yellow nail syndrome instead of the more traditional causes, such as staining from polish or smoking, take a few minutes to discuss the nails with the client. Be alert to symptoms such as swelling in the legs, hands, or arms. Other symptoms are trouble breathing, shortness of breath, or sharp pain associated with breathing. If appropriate, recommend that the client see a doctor. Yellow nail syndrome is a very rare condition, so more than likely she will return with a clean bill of health.


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