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Dr. Alpana Mohta Ranka, MD, DNB, IFAAD, is a dual-board-certified dermatologist with over 90 research publications in peer-reviewed scientific journals.

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Ingrown Fingernails: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

Updated: May 4

Ingrown fingernails, a painful condition, occur when the nail grows into the surrounding skin, leading to discomfort, swelling, and sometimes infection. Understanding its causes, symptoms, and effective treatment is crucial for relief.



What Are Ingrown Fingernails


Nails and skin are both made up of a protein called keratin. Nails form as layers of keratinized cells emerge on your finger's surface. Ridges on your nails match the skin ridges below, securing your nails.


Normally, nails grow straight out, but if your nail's shape shifts, the connecting ridges may weaken, leading the nail to grow into your skin's sides or corners, leading to ingrown nails. Such nails grow in the wrong direction and start growing into the nearby skin, causing pain in the surrounding skin.


What Causes Ingrown Fingernails


Ingrown fingernails can arise due to a variety of causes, including:

  • Improper nail trimming

  • Curved or irregularly shaped nails

  • Repeated nail trauma

  • Nail biting

  • Wearing ill-fitting gloves

  • Fungal infection of nails (onychomycosis)

  • Excessive nail growth (e.g., due to psoriasis)

  • Slow nail growth (common during old age)

  • Chemotherapy drugs, such as epidermal growth factor receptor inhibitors (e.g., cetuximab, gefitinib, etc.)


Symptoms


Recognizing the signs early can aid in prompt treatment. Symptoms often include pain, redness, swelling, and tenderness around the affected nail. In more severe cases, pus or drainage might occur, indicating infection.


Ingrown Fingernail Throbbing


Throbbing pain is a common symptom of an ingrown fingernail. This pulsating discomfort often accompanies the redness and swelling and might indicate an infected ingrown nail requiring immediate attention.


Ingrown Fingernail Swelling


Swelling around an ingrown fingernail is a typical symptom caused by the body's response to the irritation. It's often associated with pain and redness and may signal an infected ingrown nail.


Fungal Infection of Nail

An ingrown fingernail can lead to onychomycosis or be caused by existing onychomycosis, which is a fungal infection of the nail. Onychomycosis is most commonly caused by a fungus called dermatophyte. Other causative organisms include yeast and mold infections.


Nail Fold Infection

Ingrown fingernails may cause a skin infection called Paronychia. This infection usually involves the finger and is often caused by bacteria like Staphylococcus aureus or the fungus candida. If not treated, the infection can become a painful abscess, and prolonged untreated infections may lead to severe issues and permanent damage to the nail.

How Long Do Ingrown Fingernails Last


The duration of an ingrown fingernail largely depends on the severity and the treatment applied. Mild cases might resolve in a few days with proper care, while chronic or infected cases may persist until addressed by a healthcare professional.


Preventive Measures


Proper nail care is critical in prevention. Trim nails straight across and avoid cutting them too short. Avoid cutting your nails too sharp because pointy ends can poke the skin around the nail, causing ingrown nails. Instead, trim your nails slightly above the overhanging edge of the nail folds on the sides. This helps prevent the nail from digging into the surrounding skin.


Maintain good hygiene, keep nails clean and dry, and prevent trauma by wearing well-fitted gloves during activities that might stress the nails.


Home Remedies


Several at-home treatments can alleviate mild cases. Soaking the affected finger in warm water multiple times a day, applying antibiotic cream, and gently lifting the edge of the nail can reduce discomfort and encourage proper growth.


Ingrown Fingernail Treatment


For persistent or painful cases, professional intervention might be necessary. Treatments range from minor interventions to complete nail removal, determined by the severity and recurrence of the condition.


How to Dig Out an Ingrown Fingernail


Digging out an ingrown nail at home is not recommended due to the risk of exacerbating the condition or causing infection. Seek professional medical assistance for safe and effective treatment.


How to Get Rid of an Ingrown Fingernail Overnight


While complete resolution overnight is unlikely, relieving symptoms can be achieved through warm water soaks, elevation, and over-the-counter pain relief. Seek professional help for persistent discomfort.


Conclusion


Ingrown fingernails, though common, can cause considerable discomfort and potential complications if left untreated. Practicing good nail care, recognizing symptoms early, and seeking appropriate treatment can effectively manage and prevent this condition.

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