Leukonychia is a condition where white lines or dots appear on your finger or toenails. This is a very common issue 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 and stretch across the entire nail. The spots may affect one nail or several.
The most common cause of leukonychia is injury to the nail bed. These injuries can occur if you pinch or strike your nail or finger. Frequent manicures and pedicures or the use of gel or acrylic nails can also damage nail beds. Several other causes may be responsible for the unusual spots on the nails.
White spots or dots on your nails are common. Several issues can cause them. Possible causes include:
An allergy to a nail polish, gloss, hardener, or nail polish remover may cause white spots on your nails. The use of acrylic or gel nails can also badly damage your nails and may cause these white spots.
A common nail fungus called white superficial onychomycosis can appear on the toenails. The first sign of the infection may be a few small white dots on the nails.
The infection can grow and spread to the nail bed. Toenails may appear flaky and then become thick and brittle.
Injury to the nail
An injury at the base of your fingernail can cause white spots or dots on your nail as it grows. However, because of the time it takes for your fingernails to grow, you may not recall the injury. Some injuries won’t show up for four weeks or more.
Common sources of injuries to nails include:
- shutting your fingers in a door
- striking your finger with a hammer
- hitting your nails against a counter or desk
Frequent manicures may also cause damage that results in these white spots on your nails. Pressure applied by the manicurist may damage the nail beds.
You may notice white spots or dots along 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 for white spots on nails include:
While these causes are possible, they are very rare. Your doctor will likely explore a host of other conditions if you have persistent white spots on your nails before considering these more serious issues.
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.
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.
Treatment will vary depending on the cause for the white spots.
Stop using the polish, gloss, or nail product you think may be responsible for your allergic reaction. If you continue to have symptoms of an allergic reaction after you stop using the products, consult your doctor.
An oral antifungal medication is the most common treatment, and many doctors will also prescribe a topical antifungal treatment. The average treatment time is three months, and it’s important to use the treatment through the prescribed period of time. Otherwise, you may not fully treat the infection.
Most nail injuries just need time to heal. As the nail grows, the damage will move up the nail bed. Over time, the white spots will disappear entirely.
If the discoloration of your nails is troublesome or you’re 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.
For most people, white spots on your nails are nothing more than a bothersome spot. They are rarely signs of bigger problems, and most will disappear on their own without treatment.
If you’ve noticed the spots and are anxious, don’t worry. A quick visit to your doctor can help clear up whatever’s causing the spots and answer any additional questions you have. Most treatments are fast and effective.
If you’ve noticed white spots on your nails and wonder what to do, here’s a brief guide:
- Think back and then protect your nails. Have you recently hit your nails or injured your fingers in any way? Are the spots on the affected digits? Protect your nails as best you can when doing anything where they may be pinched, hit, or smashed.
- Take note of symptoms. Do you have any other symptoms, such as changes to your nail color or texture? Are your nails turning yellow or becoming brittle? You may need to see your doctor for treatment.
- Talk with your doctor. If you think the white spots on your nails are not caused by injury, you can make an appointment with your doctor. After an examination, your doctor may offer a diagnosis and prescription.
- Eat for better nail health. Eat a balanced diet and maintain adequate levels of vitamins to prevent side effects like white spots on your nails.