You see them every single day, but when's the last time you really looked at your hands? If it's been a while, you may want to start studying. Everything from raggedy nails to shaky digits could signal that something's up with your health.
If your hands are shaking uncontrollably, first, don't panic. One simple explanation for hand tremors can be that you've had too much caffeine. And some medications, including asthma drugs and antidepressants, can also prompt your hands to tremble. However, if none of these causes is to blame, or you develop unexplained tremors that occur frequently, see your doctor. A more rare cause could be Parkinson's disease, a disorder of the nervous system that affects movement, says dermatologist Dr David E. Bank.
2/ CRACKED OR WEAK NAILS
If your nails seem more delicate than a fancy wine glass, you may have a zinc deficiency. According to Bank, zinc may help with the growth and renewal of skin cells. Consider adding zinc-rich foods to you diet to see if that prompts improvement. Some options: wheat germ, oats, nuts and meat.
3/ PEELING AND FLAKY SKIN
If the skin on your fingertips is suddenly flaky, you may have a vitamin B deficiency. B vitamins such as niacin (B3) and biotin (vitamin B7) are extra important for healthy skin, says Bank. "Niacin helps protect and repair skin by preventing the formation of melanin, boosting collagen growth and improving your skin's natural moisture barrier." Add niacin-rich foods such as fish, peanuts, mushrooms and avocado to your diet.
4/ DRYNESS, ITCHINESS AND RASH
If it feels like no lotion is ever a match for your rough hands, you may have eczema, a skin condition that makes skin itchy, dry or rash-prone. Speak to your GP and see if you might need a prescription-strength ointment to help restore your skin. If your doc determines that you don't have eczema and that your hands are simply dry, use rich moisturisers that contain vitamin A. "Repeated hand washing, which can dry your hands, and then touching paper and other harsh materials all day long, will doubly dry them out," Bank says. Also, apply vitamin E to cuticles at night. "Because we don't wash our hands while we sleep, these products will have a good amount of time to penetrate your skin," he says.
5/ PALE OR WHITE NAIL BEDS
This type of discolouration can be a sign of anaemia, which means you're not making enough healthy red blood cells to carry adequate oxygen to your tissues, says Bank. A routine blood test can check for anaemia, and treatment generally consists of iron supplementation – but requires an appropriate medical evaluation first.
6/ BLUE FINGERTIPS
Fingertips that change in colour from white to blue to red can signal Raynaud's syndrome. "This condition causes coldness of the fingers and toes and can be accompanied by pain, numbness and tingling," Bank says. Experts believe Raynaud's occurs due to a spasm of blood vessels and decreased circulation, but the cause remains unknown. The best treatment: wearing gloves, taking prescribed medication and avoiding emotional stress, smoking and exposure to cold temperatures.
7/ FLEXIBLE NAILS
Nails that are soft and bendable can indicate a calcium or protein deficiency. "One of the signs of hypocalcemia – low calcium – can be brittle nails or dry, scaly skin and coarse hair," Bank says. "Protein deficiencies can present as nail ridges as well." Be sure you eat a sufficient quantity of dairy products, or sardines and spinach. If that doesn't help, see your doc.
8/ A DARK, PIGMENTED STREAK
If you see a dark streak in your nail bed, seek medical help immediately, warns Bank. The mark can indicate an early melanoma, but know that this type of nail-bed skin cancer is quite rare, accounting for just 1-3 per cent of all cases of melanoma, according to one Italian study.
9/ BROWN SPOTS
These are age and liver spots, which are caused by sun exposure. Hands are extra-prone to sun damage since they absorb additional UV-rays from their position on the steering wheel when you're driving, Bank says. So be sure to slather a high SPF on your hands when you know you'll be exposed to direct sunlight for extended periods of time.