What is leukonychia?
Leukonychia is a condition where white lines or dots appear on your fingers or toenails. This is a very common disease and entirely harmless. Many healthy adults have these spots at some point in their lives, so developing them is likely not a sign of a serious medical condition. For some people, the white spots may appear as tiny dots speckled across the nail. For others, the white spots may be larger. The spots may affect one nail or several.
The most common cause of leukonychia is an injury to the nail bed. These injuries can occur if you strike your nail or finger. Frequent manicures and pedicures or the use of gel can also damage nail beds. Several other causes may be responsible for the unusual spots on the nails.
- Total leukonychia refers to a condition in which the entire nail plate is completely white.
- The white spots on the nail are called dotted leukonychia, a type of partial leukonychia.
Another type is partial leukonychia. There are three main types of partial leukonychia:
- Leukonychia dotted, appearing as small white spots.
- Longitudinal leukonychia, which is like a white band under the nail.
- Straight or transverse leukonychia, where one or more horizontal lines per nail appear parallel to the lunula. They are also sometimes called Mies lines.
- Under the nail, patches of white skin called leukoderma sometimes give the impression of partial leukonychia.
Leukonychia can be divided into two other types:
- When a white spot or scratch occurs due to nail damage, this condition is called true leukonychia. With true leukemia, the white areas are not affected when pressure is applied to them. These areas grow like a nail.
- Clear leukonychia occurs when the bed under the nail is affected. With clear leukonychia, the nail bed affects the nail plate. It is stressed or disappears and does not grow with the nail.
Symptoms of leukonychia
White spots can appear in a variety of ways. They may look like:
- Tiny pen-point–sized dots
- Larger “lines” across the nail
- Larger individual dots
The cause for the white spots on your nail may dictate how the spots appear. A nail injury may cause a large white dot in the middle of the nail. An allergic reaction may cause several dots all over the nail. The appearance of the white dots or lines may be different on each nail.
You may have additional signs or symptoms, depending on the cause of the white spots.
White spots or toenails are common. Many problems can cause them. Possible causes:
- Allergic reaction
- Nail injury
- Mineral deficiency
- Allergic reaction
An allergy to nail polish, glitter, or nail polish remover can cause white spots on your nails. Using acrylic or gel nails can also seriously damage your nails and cause these white spots.
A common nail fungus called white surface onychomycosis appears on the nails. The first sign of infection may be small white spots on the nails. The infection grows and spreads to the nail bed.
White spots form on the nail as a lesion grows at the base of the nail. However, since it takes time to grow your nails, you may not remember the injury. Some lesions do not appear for four weeks or more.
You may notice white spots or dots along with your nails if you are deficient in certain minerals or vitamins. The deficiencies most commonly linked to this issue are zinc deficiency and calcium deficiency.
Less common causes of leukonychia
- Heart disease
- Bad health
- Renal (kidney) failure
- Psoriasis or eczema
- Arsenic poisoning
These causes are very rare. Your doctor will explore several other conditions if you have persistent white spots on your toenails before considering these more serious problems.
If your white spots are infrequent and you think they’re most likely related to injury, you may never need to see your doctor about the issue. Just be more careful to avoid injury or stop the behavior that you suspect is responsible for the damage. If you notice the spots are persistent or are becoming worse, it might be time to see your doctor. Most issues that could cause the white spots are easily treated once they are diagnosed.
At your appointment, your doctor will inspect your nails and your hands or feet. Based on their observations, they may make a diagnosis and offer a prescription. If they’re unsure about the diagnosis, they may request several tests to eliminate possible causes. This is especially true if your doctor suspects that a vitamin or mineral deficiency is responsible for the white spots on your nails.
How to treat white spots on nails
Treatment depends on the cause of the white spots. If a doctor is unsure of the cause, several tests can help make a diagnosis:
- Mycology, where fungi and nail clippings are sent for study.
- Nail biopsy, in which a doctor removes a small piece of tissue for examination.
- Blood tests to detect the presence of systemic disease.
There is no cure for white spots on its own. The injury causes it to grow naturally over time. Treatment varies depending on the cause of the white spots.
Stop using nail polish, glitter, or products that you think maybe causing your allergic reaction. If you have symptoms of an allergic reaction.
Most nail wounds take time to heal. As the nail grows, the damage moves up the nail bed. Over time, the white spots disappear completely.
If the discoloration of your nails is troublesome or you are seeking a temporary way to cover them up, use nail polish. Skin tone colored nail polish is a natural way to hide the spots. And colorful polishes are certainly fun and offer loads of personality.
There are ways to prevent a person from reappearing white spots. Prevention steps include:
- Avoid contact with irritants.
- Avoid overuse of nail polish.
- Cut short nails
Applying a moisturizer after washing will prevent your nails from drying out. In most cases, white spots on the nail are not a problem and disappear over time.