People Are Noticing 'Beau's Lines' On Their Nails, And Wondering If It's From COVID-19

by Colleen Dilthey Thomas
Originally Published: 
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COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on our world for more than a year. Millions of lives have been taken by this deadly disease worldwide. And survivors are facing serious long-term health effects including lung and heart damage. It seems that every day we are learning of a new symptom or after-effect. And yet, this virus is so elusive, many people have had it, but were asymptomatic. Some are suggesting that there is a new way to prove that you have had COVID-19 and it’s in your fingernails.

Some survivors of COVID have noticed that after they had the virus, there have been marked changes to their fingernails, and sometimes their toenails. This new post-virus symptom has been dubbed COVID Nails in a Tweet by U.K.-based epidemiologist Tim Spector. COVID Nails are most notably recognized by horizontal ridges forming on the nails. This type of nail transformation is also known as Beau’s Lines. But before you jump to conclusions that you have had COVID, there is more that you need to know.

When a person becomes ill, sudden changes can take place in their body. These changes are often in the skin, hair and nails. You have likely heard of a child developing a rash along with a strep infection. Sometimes children will lose their fingernails after a case of Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease. Other viruses, including COVID, can cause temporary, or sometimes permanent, hair loss. The body may have similar responses to medications. These are normal reactions. Beau’s Lines are among these types of bodily responses.

“It has been well known that any kind of systemic disease can disrupt nail growth which can be reflected in abnormalities in the appearance of nails. This can be seen with any critical illness,” Amesh A. Adalja, MD, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security in Maryland, told Health Magazine. Essentially any illness that causes a high fever can cause Beau’s Lines. In addition, it can be an after-effect of chemotherapy.

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Beau’s Lines occur after a temporary reduction of nail growth. Shari Lipner, a nail expert and dermatologist at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York shared with the Washington Post that cases of Beau’s Lines from COVID are rare. Due to the fact that the interruption occurs at the nail matrix, or the base of the nail, it may take some time for it to become noticeable. There is no scientific data to explain why nails temporarily stop growing, but it is believed to be due to a shock to the body’s system. If you are seeing, or feeling the ridges from Beau’s Lines, the cause likely happened at least one month before. Beau’s Lines are nothing to be concerned about and they are not usually not permanent; they simply signal that the body has been affected by a systemic change, such as a virus, she said.

Esther Freeman, director of global health dermatology at Massachusetts General Hospital told the Washington Post that there have been a slew of nail abnormalities in patients that have had COVID, including red or purple skin discoloration known clinically as pernio or chilblains, or commonly as COVID toes, that can appear under the nail. She has also seen splinter hemorrhages, appearing as small red or purple spots that are linked to tiny blood clots. Additionally, there have been cases of brittle and peeling nails. But all of these conditions can be the result of other viral infections or illness. Can Beau’s Lines and the like be a reliable source for definitively saying that a person has been COVID positive? Freeman says no. The only true way to find out if you have had COVID is to have an antibody test. It is a simple blood draw that will typically give results in three to five days. (Also, if you’re willing to donate blood via the American Red Cross, they will do an antibody test for free.)

So what should you do if you have Beau’s Lines or COVID nails? Actually there is not much that you can do.

Nailpro says that fingernails with Beau’s Lines should be treated as a normal nail, and that a couple of coats of nude polish can help diminish the look of the lines if you’re worried about aesthetics. The ridges are harmless and will eventually grow out on their own. Healthline reports that fingernails typically grow about a tenth of a millimeter a day, or 3.47 mm per month. An average grain of rice is about 5.5mm long, to put things in perspective. At that rate, it will take your fingernails about six months to grow out completely — but if we’ve learned anything in the last year, it’s that patience is a necessity during a pandemic.

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