Our nails serve many important roles. They protect and support tissue in our fingers and toes. Having nails allows us to scratch an itch. A look at your nails can warn a doctor of underlying medical conditions such as heart disease or diabetes.
Basically, nails are hardened skin cells composed largely of keratin, a protein found in the skin and hair. Fingernails grow from the matrix (the hidden half-moon area under the cuticle), and as new skin cells grow in the matrix, the older cells are pushed forward, where they harden and form a visible nail.
How fast a nail grows largely depends on several factors: Nails grow faster in summer than winter. Men’s nails grow more quickly than women’s, except possibly during pregnancy and old age. The nails on a person’s dominant hand grow faster. On average, fingernails grow 2 to 3 millimeters per month, while toenails grow 1 millimeter per month. Disease, hormone imbalance, and aging are causes of slow nail growth.
There are many bacteria that live on the surface of healthy skin. But with a break in the skin, these bacteria can invade the outer layer of skin and cause an infection and rash. Staphylococcus (Staph) is a common cause of bacterial infections of the skin. Impetigo is one of the most common causes of skin infections in both adults and children. Oral or topical antibiotics are used to treat bacterial skin infections.
Viruses are parasitic organisms that can live and grow inside living cells. They cause either a degeneration or a proliferation of the cell. Most causes of viral skin infections are either from Human Papilloma Virus, which causes warts, or Human Herpes Virus, which causes cold sores, chicken pox, shingles, genital herpes and mononucleosis. Viruses do not respond to antibiotics. Generally, medications are prescribed to help alleviate the symptoms of the infection, such as a rash or itch. Additionally, vaccinations are used to prevent viral infections.
Fungal infections of the human body are called mycoses and affect only the outer layer of skin. Although seen in all areas of the body, skin mycoses most frequently appear as yeast infections, thrush, athlete’s foot or jock itch.