Q: I’m 70-year-old woman, and for the last two or three years my fingernails have begun to split in a lateral manner. I take calcium, so I’m wondering what’s causing this. Can you help?
A: There are a number of reasons why nails may peel, such as:
– Vitamin deficiencies
– Having hands in water often
– Fungal infections
– Habits such as rubbing or picking nails
Inherited conditions that show up later in life, such as a median nail dystrophy, where nails tend to split down the middle
If splitting is due to median nail dystrophy or another inherited condition, there’s little that you can do. However, for good nail care in general, these tips can help:
1. Eat a well-balanced diet with green and yellow vegetables, as well as protein.
2. Keep nails trimmed.
3. Protect nails by wearing rubber gloves when washing dishes.
4. Keep an unscented moisturizer by the sink for applying to hands and nails after washing and drying hands.
5. Apply clear Vaseline to nails in the evening to help offset nail dryness.
If flaking or splitting continues, see your doctor. He or she can check for a fungal infection. Your doctor can also make certain no other medical condition is involved, since fingernails can sometimes be associated with other medical problems.
– Rebecca Campen, M.D., J.D.
Rebecca Campen, M.D., J.D., is an assistant professor of dermatology at Harvard Medical School. She divides her time between clinical practice of dermatology at the Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, and private practice in Savannah, Ga. For additional consumer health information, please visit www.health.harvard.edu
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