One of the ways that doctors determine your health during routine physicals is a thorough examination of your nails. Healthy nails are pink, slightly curved and follow an oblong ‘U’ to a curve opposing the cuticle. Signs that you may have a preexisting health condition include blackening of the nails, mild discoloration, ranging from yellow to brown, crumbling or cracked toenails, and toenails which permit the distinct odor of toenail fungus.
One of the more important signs to watch out for is dark, vertical stripes on the toenail. Dark stripes on toenails can warn doctors of toenail melanoma, which makes up approximately 5% of all melanoma cases. Melanoma is a cancerous growth, which may or may not result in fatality if left untreated. Often, melanomas of this type are benign.
If you observe dark lines on your toenails, call your doctor right away. Those of Asian origin, or those of darker skin-tone are more susceptible to this type of melanoma. It is often referred to as the ‘hidden melanoma’ as physicians are more apt to listen to a patient’s heart before examining their toenails.
Melanoma of the toenail is not easy to diagnose. In some cases, the toenail may dry and crumble, or crack. In such cases, the toenail is usually dark yellow, or brown, though toenail fungus can also be responsible for this. You should talk to your doctor if you notice anything out of the ordinary, particularly dark stripes which form in the absence of sudden injury to the toenail in question.
Your primary care physician may refer you to another specialist if he suspects malignant melanoma, as misdiagnosis can be fatal, depending on the situation. When you have received a definitive diagnosis, your specialist will inform you of your treatment options, explain the advantages and disadvantages of all, and advise you on the best course of action.
In the early stages, surgery may do the trick. The earlier you catch it, the less invasive the surgery is likely to
be, should you choose to entertain such an option. In instances of late-stage malignant melanoma, your specialist may recommend chemotherapy and radiation therapy to control the spread, and to combat the melanoma as it continues to metastasize.
Again, the most common cause of dark lines beneath the toenail is a blunt-force injury, like stubbing your toe or dropping something on it. Bruises may also appear as dark lines, especially if the point of impact was close enough to the toe to have struck a corresponding nerve ending the base of the toe. Either way, you are better safe than sorry.
Black toenails have been successfully treated with a topical ointment and strict adherences to our nail fungus treatment guide.