Nail & Skin Disorders

The Nail Doctor: All-Star Edition

The Nail Doctor brings you the medical expertise of not one, not two, but three professionals this month!

Q: I injured my nail causing the nail to lift from the nail bed. It's been about two months and the nail is growing but it's not reattach­ing. It's lifted down to the cuticle. I feel only a little pain if I hit or squeeze the nail hard. Is the nail damaged for good? Should I cut it back? Will I be able to apply a tip in the future?

A: Dr. Pheobe Rich: You have ony­cholysis on the nail, which is defined as separation of the nail plate from the nail bed. This is a common problem which is often caused by an injury to the nail. It usually re­pairs itself, although it may take six months or more in se­vere cases. The nail does not glue itself back down to the nail bed once it is detached. It has to grow out and attach as it is growing. Keep the nail cut back as far as you can to pre­vent a "lever action" from lift­ing the nail as the delicate cells are trying to reattach to the nail bed. Some people think it helps to keep nail cosmetics off the damaged nail while it is growing back and healing itself. It is very important to take precautions against get­ting a fungus in a nail that is weakened by the injury. Avoid prolonged water exposure when possible.

Dr. Godfrey Mix: It may just appear that the new nail is not re­attaching. In his book, Nails: Therapy, Diagnosis, Surgery, Dr. Scher states that it takes the normal nail about two months to grow the 5 mm out from under the proximal nail fold. The replacement growth of an injured nail is slightly faster. With this in mind, you should be just see­ing the edge of the new nail plate growing out from under your eponychium and it would be rather difficult to determine if it was attached or not. It takes approximate­ly six months for a fingernail to replace itself completely. Only time will tell how badly the soft tissues of the matrix and nail bed were injured. The more severe the injury, the more chance there is that the nail plate will grow in malformed or remain unat­tached from the nail bed.

A number of years ago I hit my thumb with a ham­mer during a woodworking project. It was a very minor injury but about two weeks later I noticed that the nail was partially detached from the nail bed. Since I worked with fungal nails on a daily basis, I was worried that I would acquire a fungal infec­tion under this injured nail plate. I kept the nail trimmed short and clean. Each day 1 used an antifungal liquid on the area. New nail plate was growing but was malformed on the injured side of the nail. It did not seem that it was attaching to the underly­ing nail bed. I thought that 1 was destined for a mal­formed nail for the rest of my life. After about 18 months the nail plate began reattach­ing to the nail bed and today one would never know that this nail had ever been in­jured. What I learned from this is to never say never, practice good sanitation, and let nature take its course.


Q: I have a client with strong nails but she develops white blis­ters on them. When they grow out to the nail edge, they peel and the nail breaks. What is this?

A: Dr. Jamie MacDougall: Your client may have one of several con­ditions. One possible condi­tion is superficial white onychomycosis, a superficial infection of the top layers of protein in the nail plate. The infection does not usually cause the nail to separate off the nail bed as is the case in the more common subun­gual onychomycosis, but the infection may eventually damage enough protein so that by the time the nail has grown to the free edge it be­comes brittle and fractures. This sort of peeling of the nail plate in layers is referred to as "onychoschizia." Treat­ment consists of using topi­cal Clotrimazole solution applied twice daily with a toothbrush. No prescription is needed.

Another possibility would be some variant of psoriasis, lichen planus, or other skin condition that causes pitting. These occasionally look like blisters and the nails can ap­pear hard until the nail grows out and then the characteris­tic brittleness appears.

A third possibility would be a variant of traumatic leukonychia. A slight irregu­larity in the deposition of nail protein as it forms can lead to the appearance of small par­tial transverse bands that may occasionally look like blisters. Most commonly this is caused by picking the proximal nail fold or overzealous manipu­lation with manicure tools.

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