Have you ever noticed that your nails tend to get white marks on them that come and go? We're not talking about the lunula -- the crescent shaped white mark at the base of your nail -- that's there to stay. We mean the little spots of discoloration that dot different nails. Have you ever wondered what they are? Well, the technical term for these spots is leukonychia, a term which covers the range of white discoloration of the nail plate that can be caused by different things.
The typical cause of the spots is trauma to an area of the nail. Say you bump into a chair and hit your nail pretty hard. If you watch over the next couple of days, a white spot is likely to appear and it will eventually go away. Other things, like fungal infections and a zinc deficiency can also cause leukonychia. Presumably there would be some additional symptoms that would help you differentiate these issues from a nail trauma.
In more severe cases, the entire nail may turn white, which can be caused by a host of diseases, like typhoid fever and cholera. But it's also an inherited condition, so check your family history before running to the clinic fearing cholera.