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The appearance of our nails is not only a matter of aesthetic nature. Changes in the nails as well as their shape may be the basis for suspecting certain respiratory diseases. What are stick fingers and what can they testify to? What other nail plate lesions might suggest lung disease?

One of the most frequent variations in the appearance of nails are the so-called stick fingers, also called drummer sticks. However, this is not the only symptom of lung disease that you see on your nails. Other nail changes include covid nails, nipple, flaking nails, and visible Beau lines. What exactly do these symptoms mean?

Rod fingers - what is this symptom?

This symptom is that the nails take the shape of a watch glass and are definitely more convex than under normal conditions. This is due to the proliferation of connective tissue under the nail.

Rod fingers are much more often observed as a deviation in the morphology of the upper limbs than the lower limbs.

What is the reason why the nails look like a watch glass?

There are many reasons, as this symptom can accompany many diseases of the respiratory, cardiovascular and digestive systems.

Rod fingers are also associated with disorders of the hormonal balance (they occur, among others, in the course of Graves' disease or hyperparathyroidism), and interestingly, they can also appear for no apparent reason, which we then call idiopathic club fingers.

Rod fingers - causes related to the respiratory system

Let's look at diseases related to the respiratory system, which may be manifested by the presence of stick fingers. These diseases include, first of all:

  • chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)- a condition resulting from the permanent restriction of airflow through the respiratory tract, typically manifested by chronic cough, coughing up mucus, and increasing breathlessness . In the vast majority of cases, long-term smoking is responsible for the development of this disease,
  • lung abscess- this is a reservoircontaining fluid (pus) that is located in the lung tissue. Symptoms of a lung abscess are most often fever, cough, and coughing up mucus. A lung abscess may be a complication of untreated pneumonia,
  • pleural empyema- this is the presence of an inflammatory exudate within the pleural cavity, typically manifested by coughing, shortness of breath, chest pain, and fever. Like a lung abscess, it can be a complication of pneumonia,
  • bronchiectasis- the essence of this disease is the irreversible widening of the bronchi, resulting from damage to their wall. The most important symptoms of bronchiectasis are a chronic, productive cough accompanied by the coughing up of often purulent secretions, as well as shortness of breath. Many years of COPD, pneumoconiosis, and some rheumatological diseases - e.g. rheumatoid arthritis,
  • can lead to the development of bronchiectasis.
  • pulmonary tuberculosis- an infectious disease caused by bacteria from the Mycobacterium tuberculosis complex group. Tuberculosis is associated primarily with the respiratory system, but it can actually affect any organ of our body, including the digestive system, heart, lymph nodes, bones, and even the nervous system,
  • cystic fibrosis- genetic disease, diagnosed most often in early childhood, the essence of which is the disturbance of the secretion of exocrine glands. Cystic fibrosis manifests itself as cough, often productive, with frequent respiratory infections, as well as chronic diarrhea and chronic rhinitis,
  • sarcoidosis- the essence of this disease is the formation of inflammatory nodules called granulomas in various areas of the body, including the lung tissue. Sarcoidosis is manifested mainly by malaise, fever, weight loss, as well as cough and shortness of breath (if lung involvement),
  • lung cancer- importantly, club fingers can also be part of the clinical picture of lung cancer. Other symptoms that may accompany lung cancer include chronic cough, weight loss, recurrent pneumonia, as well as a change in the nature of cough (this applies to smokers),
  • pulmonary fibrosis- mainly manifested by coughing, shortness of breath and increasing weakness. Various clinical conditions can lead to fibrosis of the lung tissue, including autoimmune diseases (systemic lupus erythematosus, systemic scleroderma), pneumonia, including pneumonia in the course of COVID-19, or exposure to harmful factors in the workplace.

The presence of stick fingers is worth itexplain, for example by performing a simple examination, such as a chest X-ray, as it is a symptom that may accompany a neoplastic disease.

Beau lines - the effect of inhibiting the growth of the nail plate

These are transverse depressions within the nail plate, which result from temporary inhibition of nail growth. These lines may coexist with pneumonia, which is associated with episodes of fever. In addition, Beau's lines accompany some hypersensitivity to drugs and malnutrition of the body.

Covid nails - what do they look like?

Changes in the course of covid nails are typically dark red in the form of crescents and are located within the nail plate. The ring is the whitish crescent at the bottom of the nail.

It is assumed that the presence of covid nails is caused by damage to the endothelium of the blood vessels and thrombotic changes in the vessels.

Changes on nails - what do they signal?

See the gallery of 6 photos

Nail exfoliation and lung diseases

Peeling of the nail plate is a symptom that may worry many of us. This condition can even lead to complete nail loss. Flaking nails may accompany the presence of abscesses in the lung.

In addition, this condition coexists with pemphigus vulgaris, an autoimmune disease of the skin, which is manifested by the presence of blisters on the skin and erosions within the mucous membranes. The blisters on the skin burst and leave behind erosions, i.e. epidermis defects.

Red ring - what can it mean?

When the nipple of the nail becomes reddish, it may indicate the presence of the chronic obstructive pulmonary disease discussed above, as well as carbon monoxide poisoning.

Non-pulmonary causes of reddish nipple include:

  • connective tissue diseases,
  • rheumatological arthritis,
  • heart failure,
  • cirrhosis of the liver,
  • chronic urticaria,
  • psoriasis.

In conclusion, if we notice disturbing changes on our nails, it is worth visiting your family doctor who, after examining the changes and conducting an in-depth interview, will decide whether additional tests and consultations are needed.

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