The nails on your fingers and toes play an important role in protecting the sensitive skin of your nail plate. The cuticle is also plays an role by sealing the nail bed off from bacterial and fungal infections. Both structures are a common target for bacteria, fungi and other health issues that can occur at any time, and for a variety of reasons.
One of the most common nail and cuticle disorders is a fungal infection. Fungal infection of the toenail are called onychomycosis. Fungal infections are typically caused by a type of fungus called dermatophytes. These fungi typically infect nails through cuts or open areas of skin, and spread from other people, or through contact with surfaces (such as a shower room floor) holding the fungi. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, fungal infections occur more often in people over the age of 60, but can occur at any age.
Bacterial infections are another common nail and cuticle disorder that occur and spread the same way fungal infections do. These infections are commonly caused by exposure to Staphylococcus aureus or Streptococci bacteria, which attack the cuticle and cause an infection called paronychia.
Onychogryphosis, also called ram's horn nail, is a disorder that occurs most commonly on the nail of the big toe. Onychogryphosis occurs when the toe nail thickens and begins to curve abnormally into a hook shape. This occurs when one side of the nail starts growing faster than the other. The disorder can cause injury to the surrounding toes due to the sharp edge of the hooked nail.
Onycholysis is a nail disorder that affects the nail plate and bed. Onycholysis occurs when the nail experiences direct trauma, such as improperly fitting shoes, sports incident or stubbing, resulting in the separation of the nail from the nail bed, and in some cases, the loss of the nail completely. The exposure of the skin beneath the nail raises the risk for further infection by bacteria or fungi if not kept dry and taken care of correctly.
Melanonychia striata is a nail disorder that causes pigment discoloration. In melanonychia striata cases, a brown strip of melanin appears running from the top of the nail to its base. Melanin is the pigment your body produces that gives your body structures, such as hair, skin and nails, their color. In most cases, the pigment change is nothing to worry about, but you should have your doctor examine it, as this can be a sign of skin cancer under or around the nail.
Ingrown toenails are another common nail disorder that occurs when the nail grows unevenly and penetrates the surrounding flesh of the toe. This can cause uncomfortable pain and swelling around the affected nail. The ingrown toenail also cuts the skin, allowing the possibility of infection.
Hangnails are another common nail disorder which targets the skin around the nail bed. Hangnails are a torn piece of skin that occurs from your skin being too dry. According to the Mayo Clinic, you can prevent most hangnails by taking the time to regularly moisturize your hands. If you bite your nails, you're more likely to get hangnails.