Finger cuticle inflammation can temporarily affect fingernail growth. The nail-growing part that is important covers the nail base. Fingernails are made by the matrix, which is partly under the cuticle and extends outside as the lighter colored half-moon. These cells form the nail plate, which grows up and out. The nail bed, the skin under the plate, is hooked on quite tightly.
We all know that from having a nail torn back accidentally and having the pain produce an extended vocabulary surge.
The two main disease problems that affect cuticles are chronic yeast (Candida species) and bacterial infections. Once they secrete themselves under this cloistered place, the white blood cells crowd into the same area but can’t seem to wipe them out for reasons obscure to us. The cuticle becomes swollen, red, sometimes tender, and discharges occasional drops of pus. When the cuticular crud remains localized to the side(s), it doesn’t bother the matrix. When the base part becomes involved, the newly forming nail often emerges as distorted.
Fingernails grow out in roughly (or we hope smoothly) in six months. Once the cuticle is relieved of its microbial oppression by antibiotics, and the swelling recedes, new nail will regrow quite normally, awaiting perhaps its future paint job or acrylic overcoat.
The other disease that may cause cuticular catastrophe is psoriasis. It quite uncommonly inflames cuticles as part of a psoriatic type of arthritis. Treating psoriasis can be challenging on any part of a person’s body but may be more so for fingers and nails. The same is true here: The nail growth will return to normal once the cuticle inflammation is somehow calmed.
It is a totally different and difficult dilemma if the primary problem in the nails is psoriasis.
A non-inflammatory, odd, but not rare, cuticle bump may cause a temporary nail indentation. Called a myxoid (prefix for mucous) cyst (which isn’t actually a true cyst), it is a curious collection of thick, clear, jelly-like mucous that typically forms above the matrix. It produces no problems except in the owner’s eyes. A smooth, asymptomatic, firm bump, it can put pressure on the matrix, making the underlying nail come out concave.
Popping the “cyst” with a sharp point and squeezing out the jelly will relieve the pressure and regain proper nail form. The bumps can re-accumulate. It can be re-popped until it quits, and you win.
A traumatic scar through the matrix will result in permanent nail deformity. The most familiar scenario here is some young person’s poor little pinkie getting slammed in a door right across the nail base, injuring the matrix. Such a change has to be surgically removed from the matrix to get back to normal.
This small insight will, we hope, keep your cuticular concerns to a minimum if your cuticles and their underlying nails are overcome for a period by cuticular critters.
Be comforted in the knowledge that your nails will grow again to be a canvas for new nail art with colors more than the rainbow.
I’m waiting for someone who can’t decide what color to use and just paints them plaid.
Frank Bures is a Winona dermatologist.