An ingrown fingernail is less common than an ingrown toenail since we don’t squeeze our hands into shoes everyday, but they can still occur. And when they become ingrown, they hurt just like an ingrown toenail. Ingrown fingernails can also become infected, which can make regular tasks like chores or typing difficult and painful.
Ingrown nails occur when the shape of the nail bed changes and the nail subsequently grows into the sides of the skin. Nails are initially formed when thick layers of keratinized cells push to the surface of your finger. The ridges on your nails overlap perfectly atop the skin ridges underneath your nails. These ridges help hold your nails in place — but when the ridges move, the nail has to move, too (and not always in a good way).
If an ingrown fingernail does form, paronychia can set in. Paronychia is an infection in the tissues surrounding a fingernail or toenail, usually either a staph infection or a candida infection. The worst case scenario is when those infections progress to full-blown, painful abscesses. If an infection persists without treatment, there is risk of more serious infection and permanent damage to the nail.
How do I treat an ingrown fingernail?
The best way to treat ingrown fingernails is to keep them clean and use warm, soapy water to keep the tissue soft. If the skin hardens around the nail, it will be much more uncomfortable as the nail digs in.
You can also use hydrogen peroxide to clean and kill bacteria. Once clean, you can also apply anti-fungal cream and a sterile bandage to protect it from further infection. If an abscess (a pocket of puss) develops, you should seek medical attention.
A doctor will likely clean the area again and then try to wedge something like a cotton ball under the nail in order to create some space between nail and skin. If the wound has developed into an abscess, a doctor will drain it surgically. Depending on severity, that process may continue at home for a day or two, as well, until the puss has drained adequately from the wound.
The bottom line: keep your fingernails clean, well-trimmed, and happy. And if you find yourself on the wrong end of an ingrown fingernail, don’t do anything drastic — just take care of yourself gently. A little routine maintenance can save you a lot of heartbreak down the line if the nail becomes ingrown and infection forms.