Practical Pearls

Nail Psoriasis Tips

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Nail psoriasis is one of the most challenging aspects of the disease and affects patient quality of life. The perception that nail disease is synonymous with fungal infection is prevalent in our society; therefore, patients need to be counseled and nail psoriasis needs to be properly diagnosed prior to initiating treatment. Herein, tips on managing nail psoriasis are provided, including a discussion of topical, intralesional, and systemic therapies.


What does your patient need to know at the first visit?

Patient education is important initially. There are several causes for nail dystrophy. Oftentimes, when patients present, they believe that they have onychomycosis. Therefore, it is important to counsel individuals with potential nail psoriasis (Figure) and to discuss the differential diagnosis of the condition.

Nail matrix psoriasis demonstrating pitting and onycholysis. Photograph courtesy of Antonella Tosti, MD (Miami, Florida). Reprinted with permission from Cutis. 2013;92:129-135.

The presence of psoriasis on other areas of the body and the absence of fungal infection on the soles of the feet and in between the toes increases the likelihood of nail psoriasis. The most accurate test to perform is a nail clipping with subsequent periodic acid–Schiff stain. It is important to remember, however, that nail psoriasis and fungal infection of the nail can coexist.

Once the diagnosis of nail psoriasis is established, it is important to review gentle care of the nails. A thorough discussion of therapeutic options is helpful. Patients also should be advised that the presence of nail psoriasis can increase the likelihood of the development of
psoriatic arthritis.

What are your go-to treatments?

Prior to the development of biologic therapies, topical treatments were the mainstay of treatment. Topical corticosteroid preparations can be used around and under the nail. Other therapeutic options include topical calcipotriene and topical retinoids.

Intralesional injection is another therapeutic option. Injection into the nail bed is useful for the treatment of nail bed symptoms of nail psoriasis such as onycholysis. Injection into the proximal nail fold can ameliorate signs of nail matrix psoriasis such as nail pitting. Although injection can be effective, it also can be painful; therefore, many patients do not opt to have this therapy performed.

Systemic therapy has been shown to be highly effective in improving nail psoriasis. There has been a good amount of data from studies specifically done in nail psoriasis and nail data that have been taken from larger phase 3 trials (Elewski et al; van de Kerkhof et al). Therefore, several of the biologics on the market as well apremilast are good options for the treatment of nail psoriasis. When using a systemic agent, it is important to carefully review the benefits and risks of each therapy with patients. Because the nail grows slowly, improvement can be gradual and take several months to peak.

How do you keep patients compliant with treatment?

Because nail psoriasis causes distress among patients, it generally is not too hard for them to be compliant. Of course, it is important to have regular follow-up to monitor progress and to reinforce the importance of continued therapy. At the end of the day, however, treatment success is the best asset to encourage continued compliance.

Resources for Patients
Managing nail psoriasis

What is nail psoriasis, and how can I treat it?

Suggested Readings
Elewski BE, Okun MM, Papp K, et al. Adalimumab for nail psoriasis: efficacy and safety from the first 26 weeks of phase 3, randomized, placebo controlled trial. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2018;78:90.e1-99.e1.

Van de Kerkhof P, Guenther L, Gottlieb AB, et al. Ixekizumab treatment improves fingernail psoriasis in patients with moderate-to-severe psoriasis: results from the randomized, controlled, and open-label phases of UNCOVER-3. J Eur Acad Dermatol Venereol. 2017;31:477-482.

Yin N, Choudhary S, Nouri K. Pulsed dye laser for the treatment of nail psoriasis. Cutis. 2013;92:129-135.

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