Most of us don’t spend a lot of time looking at our toes. That is unless we’re getting a pedicure or doing some basic grooming. But your toenails can undergo subtle changes that, over time, could signify a serious health condition, or even a potentially severe infection.
Most of us will develop vertical ridges on our toenails – that’s usually just a sign of aging.
On the other hand, the formation of horizontal toenail ridges, also known as Beau’s lines, might be a sign that something is wrong.
Here’s some more information on what these ridges are, and what they could mean.
Beau’s Lines 101
The condition known as “Beau’s lines” first got its name in 1846, when it was first discovered. These lines, or ridges, will typically form at the same location in each nail.1 The depressions will typically go from one edge of the nail to the other and can form in both the toenails, as well as the fingernails.
It’s not known why toenail ridges form. However, it is believed that several factors may be at play. Something as simple as exposure to extremely cold temperatures could be a contributing factor. But toenail ridges could also be an indication of something much more serious. If you have Beaus’ lines on your fingernails, as well as your toenails, you may be dealing with an illness.2
These are some of the ailments commonly associated with Beau’s lines:
This illness, which primarily affects children, was first recognized in 1967. It can strike anyone, regardless of their ethnic group, but it is more common in Japan than anywhere else. Symptoms include swollen lymph glands in the neck, inflammation of the lips, mouth, and throat, eye redness, rash, fever, and swelling of the hands and feet. Horizontal ridges may form on both the fingernails and toenails.3
Even though the short-term effects of Kawasaki disease are usually not serious, the long-term effects can be dangerous. In some instances, heart complications can occur within two weeks of development of the condition. The average age of a Kawasaki disease patient is 2, and boys develop it twice as often than girls.4
Pneumonia is one of the most common infections affecting the lung. It can be caused by a virus, a fungus, or bacteria. While most people will typically recover from this infection within a few weeks, it is a serious infection, with potentially serious consequences. Beaus’s lines is one of the conditions associated with pneumonia.5
There are more than 30 potential causes of pneumonia, but it typically develops when someone has the flu. Pneumonia often strikes due to a weakness of the immune system and the body’s inability to expel germs that you breathe in. Pneumonia symptoms include chills, difficulty breathing, fever, and cough. In severe instances, the infection can spread from the lungs to other areas of the body.6
This viral infection will typically attack the parotid glands, which are primarily responsible for producing saliva. There are three pairs of these glands, which are located near the ears. When someone develops the mumps, they will usually experience swelling of these glands.
Thankfully, most of us have the mumps vaccine, so there is a low chance of contracting the infection. This is important because there is no way to treat the mumps. This is another condition that can lead to the formation of horizontal ridges on the toenails, as well as fingernails.7
Symptoms include swelling on the side of the face, muscle aches, fatigue, weakness, loss of appetite, and fever. Sufferers may also experience pain while either chewing or swallowing. Complications are rare but can include hearing loss, swollen ovaries, swollen testicles, and an accumulation of fluid near the spinal cord and brain. Mumps might be an uncommon infection, but it does still occur in the U.S. And the illness is contagious.8
In some cases, toenail ridges can be an indication of a troublesome infection known as syphilis. This infection is usually transmitted through sexual contact, but can also be passed from a pregnant mother to her unborn child. The symptoms associated with the infection will vary depending on the stage. For example, in the primary stage, a sufferer may notice sores. In the next stage, rashes or lesions may form. If syphilis is not treated, the infection can move to the heart, brain, and blood vessels. A condition known as “neurosyphilis” occurs when the infection moves to the brain. This can lead to paralysis, numbness, and a lack of coordination.9
The Bottom Line
If you notice that you have developed toenail ridges, that doesn’t mean you need to automatically panic and fear the worst. However, if you are also showing signs of a condition or infection mentioned above, please get to your doctor. They will perform a thorough examination and then determine the best course of action to address any problem you may be experiencing.