Haims: Visible signs of health concerns

As we age, there are way too many health issues to become educated about. Some health issues we don’t know about until something blatant or very noticeable occurs. However, sometimes signs of health concerns present themselves quite obviously, and we just don’t always pay attention.

Sometimes we can make medical assessments by just looking at someone. Chances are, when you see someone with bloodshot watery eyes and a stuffy nose, they may have a cold or allergy. Ever see an elderly person with cloudy-looking build-up in the center of their eye(s)? That’s what a cataract can look like when it gets to an advanced stage.

Early warning signs of medical conditions present themselves in a number of ways. Our feet and toenails provide many signs of health risks. Many early signs of medical conditions that occur throughout our bodies like diabetes, arthritis and circulatory problems first appear in the feet. For example, feet that are consistently dry, cracking, and flakey, regardless of frequent applications of skin moisturizer, may indicate a thyroid problem. Thyroid problems cause severe dryness of the skin and in some cases can also cause brittle toenails.

Research published in the National Institutes of Health explains that dry and brittle nails occur with greater frequency as we age. Causes include repeated exposure to cuticle and nail polish remover, cleaning chemicals, and even frequency of repetitive wetting and drying from hand washing and doing the dishes. There are also medical conditions like anemia and thyroid disorders that can be of cause. Further, hydration also plays a part. With aging, our body’s water content decreases and thus increases opportunity for overall dehydration.

Typically, healthy finger and toenails should be a pink color — with the healthy nail plate being pink, and the nail part closest to the cuticle being white in color. Changes in the condition of our toe and fingernails should not be overlooked. While some changes occur naturally as we age, some changes and abnormalities may indicate the need for medical intervention.

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Both the American Podiatric Medical Association and the Mayo Clinic provide detailed information about nail health. Here are a few nail health concerns they address:

Dark black or brown stripes underneath the nail can be particularly serious as they may be indicators of melanoma. If you see such marks getting longer and/or wider within your nails, it’s important to see a doctor.

Anemia can also be identified by paying attention to your nails. If you notice changes in the shape of your nails whereby the nail appears to become spoon-like (concaved in the middle), this may be an indication of an iron deficiency called anemia or it may be a sign of liver or heart disease. Signs of anemia can also be indicated in nails that are very pale in color.

Not all nail changes are indicators of serious health concerns. Medications sometimes have side effects that can cause changes in the nails. Antifungal, chemotherapeutic, and interferons (boost the immune system) are commonly associated with nail health concerns. Because many elderly patients take a number of medications, a medical provider should be the one to evaluate the potential relations to nail changes and drug interactions.

At any age, we should pay attention to common nail abnormalities and their underlying causes. However, due in part to impaired circulation, diabetes, hydration, and medications, as we age, we should pay particular attention to some of the health signs that can be seen in our nails. By noticing irregularities and sharing such information with medical providers, you can help prevent the development of more serious problems.

Judson Haims is the owner of Visiting Angels Home Care in Eagle County. He is an advocate for our elderly and is available to answer questions. 

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