ingrown nails on fingers
Simple measures such as soaking the affected nail and taking pain relievers may help get rid of an ingrown fingernail.

Never attempt to pick or cut out your ingrown nail. It may worsen the swelling and cause pus formation. Sometimes, it may damage the nail bed (cuticle) and cause deformation of the nail structure.

You may try simple measures, such as soaking the affected toe in warm water and taking over-the-counter pain relievers for the redness to settle down.

If the condition is persistent and very painful, it is best to visit a doctor. Your doctor will examine your nail and suggest the following interventions:

  • For a slightly ingrown nail with redness and pain but no pus formation, your doctor will numb the edge and lift the ingrowing nail edge, placing a splint under it. This will separate the nail from the overlying skin and direct it to grow above the skin edge.
  • If there is pus formation along with the severely ingrown nail, your doctor will numb the area and remove the ingrown portion of the nail.
  • If an ingrown nail becomes a recurrent problem, the doctor may remove a portion of the nail along with the underlying cuticle. This procedure is performed using lasers or chemicals.

Your doctor may prescribe antibiotics, especially if the toe or finger is infected or at risk of becoming infected. Surgery for an ingrown nail is typically uncommon.

What is an ingrown nail?

Ingrown fingernails are a painful condition where the nail grows into the skin. A healthy nail will grow straight, but when the edge of the nail curves down into the skin, the nail bed becomes red and inflamed.

The most common site for an ingrown nail is the big toe, but it may be seen in other nails as well.

Certain conditions can predispose you to an ingrown nail, such as:

  • Using a nail file or emery board to slightly round the nails at the corners
  • Trimming nails too short with clippers or not straight across
  • Fingernail or toenail injury
  • Having unusually curved nails
  • Wearing tight shoes for a long time
  • Genetic predisposition

How do you know if you have an ingrown fingernail?

An ingrown nail is often characterized by the signs and symptoms that include:

  • Throbbing pain at the sides of the nail
  • Swelling in the digits
  • Redness or inflammation around a nail
  • Pus or fungus oozing from the area around your nail
  • Bleeding around the nail bed
  • The skin folding over the nail

An ingrown nail and hangnail can also cause a condition known as paronychia, which is a skin infection around the fingernails or toenails. This infection is characterized by pain, swelling, and redness around the base or sides of the nail. It can also cause pus-filled pockets (abscesses) to form.

How long does an ingrown fingernail take to heal?

This often depends on the severity of your ingrown fingernail.

  • If there is only redness and no pus, the condition should get better in a day or two with warm water soaks and painkillers.
  • If there is pus formation, the pus should be gone in 48 hours with the initiation of antibiotic ointment, and the pain should be gone in a week.

It takes about two weeks for a healthy person for a severely inflamed ingrown nail to get better. If you suffer from diabetes, poor blood circulation, or have peripheral artery disease, it may take longer to heal.

Can an ingrown fingernail kill you?

In most cases, the condition is harmless. However, an ingrown nail can become infected.

If you have diabetes or any condition that causes poor blood circulation, the infection may spread to the bone (osteomyelitis) and soft tissue (gangrene).

In very rare cases, those with uncontrolled sugar levels or very poor immunity go into severe sepsis due to the widespread infection, which could be fatal.

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Medically Reviewed on 10/25/2021
References
American Academy of Dermatology. What Kids Should Know About Ingrown Nails. https://www.aad.org/public/parents-kids/healthy-habits/parents/kids/ingrown-nails

Mayo Clinic. Ingrown toenails. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/ingrown-toenails/symptoms-causes/syc-20355903