Changes in the nails and nail bed may be caused by various health conditions, including vertical lines (ridges) in the nails and nailbeds. Horizontal ridges in the fingernails are the most common. They’re usually harmless, but fingernail ridges can also signify a medical condition.
There are times when vertical or horizontal ridges in the nails could be a sign of something else, especially if they’re accompanied by pain and discomfort. A thorough diagnosis can allow people and their doctors to determine the best course of action for them.
What are the Causes of Nail Ridges?
A protein called Keratin is found in both the skin and hair. It’s also used to make nails.
- Aging is a common and most likely cause of fingernail ridges on the nail surface. It causes a thickening and hardening of the nail plate, which results in an increased thickness of the nail bed. These changes in a nail can start as early as 20 years old.
- Other conditions can cause symptoms that affect the nail condition, which appears very similar to ridges. These may include fungal nail infections or bacterial infections. Other conditions may also cause nail abnormalities (like vertical nail ridges) along with other symptoms, including lung diseases, kidney disease, liver disease, and thyroid disease.
- Ridges in fingernails are often seen in people with diabetes or other blood sugar imbalances. These changes can occur when there’s an imbalance between glucose levels in the blood and those inside the cells. This leads to increased cell growth and a thickening of the nail plate. If left untreated, these changes can lead to painful cracks in the skin.
Treatment depends on the type of ridge, whether it is symptomatic, and any underlying medical conditions. Some of the treatment options you can explore could include:
- Topical treatments such as creams and ointments,
- Oral medications,
- Laser surgery, and surgical removal of the nails.
In some cases, a combination of different treatment methods is used.
Ridges are not considered an indication for serious medical intervention unless they cause pain. Diagnosing what causes fingernail ridges are key to understanding the best treatment options.
Note: Ridges in your fingernails cannot be treated with nail polish.
How Does Aging Affect Nail Ridges?
Just like your skin, nails and nailbeds could also display signs of aging, sometimes in the form of nail ridges. In addition, the nails could also tend to:
- lose the smooth shape
- split or break easily
- get fissures
- turn yellow, commonly known as the yellow nail syndrome
The nails can also start forming several vertical ridges while growing. These ridges, usually not a cause for concern, can run from the tip of the finger to the bottom of the nail.
A trip to see a dermatologist can still help in cases where these aging-related symptoms cause pain or unsightly nails. While seemingly superficial, mentioning it on your next provider visit may prevent future nail loss and disruption of nail growth. These are all common nail or skin condition issues and should not be a source of embarrassment.
What Deficiencies Can Cause Nail Ridges?
Some types of nutritional deficiency or anemia (iron deficiency) may influence the vertical ridges in the nails. These are often accompanied by texture and color changes in the nail. Fungal infection or vitamin deficiency can also affect nail health and nail growth.
Anemia can cause vertical ridges to appear and may also make dents appear in the nail.
What are Splinter Hemorrhages?
A splinter hemorrhage is a tiny blood clot under the nail. This can be seen as vertical discoloration. If the hemorrhage is not caused by any known issue (such as nail trauma), they should consider a trip to the dermatologist.
Other medical disorders that can cause vertical ridges to appear in the nail include:
Ridges that appear alongside other symptoms, such as rough or brittle nails that are not caused by aging, maybe a sign of other medical disorders and should be diagnosed by a doctor.
Causes of Horizontal Nail Ridges
There are many different reasons why these horizontal ridges occur. Some of them include:
Inherited traits affect the thickness of the nail plate, causing it to thicken over time. This thickening results in the formation of horizontal nail ridges.
Nail-biting is when one bites off pieces of the nail bed. The result is a horizontal line running through the nail.
During pregnancy, hormones increase the size of the nail plate. As this happens, the nail grows more quickly than normal, forming horizontal ridges.
Certain foods can cause the nail to become thicker, resulting in a horizontal ridge formation. Examples of food items that can cause thickened nails include chocolate, coffee, tea, and alcohol.
Beau’s Lines (Horizontal Nail Ridges)
Beau’s lines are horizontal nail ridges running across the fingernail. These are often deep ridges and have multiple lines. They are typically seen on the thumbs and index fingers.
Treatment Options for Horizontal Nail Ridges
If Beau’s lines are hereditary, there is no treatment available. However, if the nail-biting habit is stopped, the horizontal nail ridges will eventually disappear.
If Beau’s lines are due to a diet change, try cutting back on your intake of caffeine and chocolate. If Beau’s Lines are due to a medication, check with your doctor before stopping any medication.