How to Treat an Ingrown Fingernail: Helpful Tips

Ingrown nails aren't just a toenail; they can also occur on your fingernails. An ingrown fingernail often occurs when the side of the nail curves downward and the nail starts to grow into the skin. Luckily, most ingrown nails can be effectively treated at home using home remedies or over-the-counter medicine. Read on to learn more about the causes of ingrown fingernails, how to treat them, and nail care techniques to prevent them.

Understanding ingrown fingernail

An ingrown fingernail usually occurs the same way an ingrown toenail does. It develops on one or both sides of your nail curve downward and grows into the skin. An ingrown fingernail can become swollen, red, and painful. And the longer the ingrown nail goes without being treated, the more painful it can be.

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Ingrown fingernail

Sometimes, an ingrown fingernail can lead to an infection of the skin around the fingernail, also known as paronychia. This infection can be caused by different germs, including Staphylococcus spp., nail fungus, and even viruses like herpes simplex (HSV). Signs of paronychia include redness, pain, and swelling around the sides of the nail.

Treatment for ingrown fingernail

Ingrown nails can be painful, which makes it difficult to carry out your everyday activities. So it's important to treat them as soon as possible. The treatment for ingrown nails usually depends on the severity. Some nail treatments for an ingrown fingernail include:

Home remedies

You can use home remedies to treat mild cases of ingrown nails. Here are a few home remedies you can try.

The soaking method could bring some relief. This is soaking your finger in warm water for 20 minutes twice a day. This can help soften the skin around the nail so the nail can work its way out. You can also add Epsom salt, which, in traditional medicine, is believed to have remedial effects on pain and inflammation.

If soaking alone doesn't bring relief within a few days, you can try to gently encourage the nail to grow upward with gauze or cotton. After soaking the nail, take a tiny piece of clean cotton or gauze and insert it under the nail. This may help lift the fingernail off the skin so it can grow properly.

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Make sure you cover the fingernail with a protective bandage. This can help with comfort and also keep the area clean. But make sure to change the bandages daily.

Over-the-counter medication

Sometimes, an ingrown fingernail can cause a lot of pain. To help with this, you may take an over-the-counter pain reliever, such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen.

Besides that, using a topical steroid cream can help reduce inflammation, and using antibacterial, antifungal, or antiviral ointment can help stop the bacteria from replicating. Just apply the ointment over the area, then cover it with a clean bandage.

Remember, it's important to consult with a healthcare professional before taking any medication, even over-the-counter medicine. They can advise you on the right medication and dosage for your specific situation.

Medical treatment

If home remedies don't work, then you may need medical intervention. Your doctor may recommend the following medical treatments:

Surgical option

This typically involves a procedure called nail avulsion. Usually, it's done by removing a part of the nail to allow the infected area to heal. This is a minor procedure, and it's performed in the doctor's office under local anesthesia to keep the area numb.

Chemical treatment

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In addition to removing the nail, your doctor may apply a chemical such as phenol or sodium hydroxide to the fingernail matrix. This process is called a chemical matricectomy. It stops the nail from growing back, which may be a good option for those who repeatedly have ingrown nails. Partial nail avulsion, followed by chemical matricectomy, is one of the most successful treatment options for ingrown nails.

Proper nail-trimming techniques to prevent ingrown fingernail

Your best bet when it comes to preventing ingrown nails is to know the proper nail-trimming techniques. Here are safe nail-trimming tips for better nail health:

  1. Soak your nails first. Softer nails are usually easier to trim, so soak your nails in warm water for a few minutes before you trim then them.
  2. Use clean, sharp tools. Always make sure you disinfect nail clippers with isopropyl alcohol or ethanol at least once per month. Also, don't use nail clippers that have rust or that have become dull.
  3. Trim the nails straight across the top. Avoid cutting your nails too short, as these can cause an ingrown fingernail.
  4. Smooth rough edges using a clean nail file. Make sure you file the nail in the same direction because filing back and forth can weaken the nails.
  5. Don't cut the cuticles. Cuticle care is very important. The cuticles are a layer of protection for your nails, and trimming them may increase the risk of fingernail infection.
  6. Use hand moisturizer. Moisturizing cuticles and nails can help prevent them from drying and cracking easily.

What causes ingrown fingernails

An ingrown fingernail can occur due to several reasons, including:

  • Improper nail trimming. This is one of the most common reasons for developing ingrown nails. Cutting the nail too short may cause trauma to the fingernail. This injury increases the risk of the nail growing into the skin rather than straight out.
  • Fungal infection. Onychomycosis is a fungal infection of the nails, which can cause nail discoloration, brittleness, and ingrown fingernails.
  • Nail biting. Biting your nails damages their shape and condition, which increases the likelihood of an ingrown nail.
  • Finger injury. If you hurt your finger, you may suffer more than just the initial pain. Some finger injuries can temporarily change the shape of your nail and lead to an ingrown nail.
  • Wearing tight-fitting gloves. If you constantly wear tight gloves, you can put pressure on your fingernails, which increases the risk of ingrown fingernails. So make sure you're avoiding tight gloves.
  • Improperly paced nail growth. If your nails grow too slow or too fast, you're at a higher risk for an ingrown fingernail. Fast nail growth is more likely in youth. Slower nail growth is more common during old age, which can cause the same problem.

Symptoms of ingrown fingernail

The signs and symptoms of an ingrown nail include:

  • Pain at the sides of the nail
  • Redness or inflammation around a nail
  • Swelling in the digits
  • Bleeding around the nail bed
  • The skin folding over the nail
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Signs of infection in serious cases include pus oozing from the area around your nail or a painful abscess.

When to seek professional help

If your ingrown fingernail is very painful, shows signs of infection, or doesn't improve with home treatment, it's important to seek medical help. Your doctor will examine the ingrown nail and recommend the best treatment for you.

Additionally, people with diabetes should see a doctor first before trying to treat ingrown nails at home. This is because people with diabetes are often at a higher risk of getting infections.

Many people usually experience ingrown nails at some point in their life. Although painful and annoying, ingrown fingernails are not usually serious, and you may treat them at home. Home remedies include the soaking method and using cotton or gauze. You can also use over-the-counter pain relievers and topical steroid cream or antibacterial, antifungal, or antiviral ointment. However, if the ingrown fingernail does not improve or shows signs of infection, you should see a doctor.

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