An ingrown fingernail can be a painful, frustrating occurrence. When the thumb or another finger is tender, everyday tasks such as typing and buttoning a shirt can become very difficult. In most cases, an ingrown fingernail can be treated at home by soaking the finger, carefully trimming the nail, and applying antibiotic ointment. If an ingrown nail causes serious discomfort or becomes a recurring problem, professional medical care should be sought.
Ingrown nails are typically much more common on the toes due to pressure from shoes, but fingernails can be affected if they are injured or cut too short. When the edge of the nail digs into the skin, it causes painful inflammation and presents the opportunity for bacterial infection. The primary goal of ingrown fingernail treatment is to prevent infection and help the nail start growing straight again. Doctors usually recommend first soaking the affected finger in warm water several times a day to keep the skin and nail soft and relieve irritation. With the nail softened, trimming it becomes much easier.
Using a clean trimmer, an individual can try to cut the nail straight across the top edge. It may be tempting to trim the piece of nail that is impeding into the skin, but doing so can make the problem worse. If the edge is cut on a curve or a sharp angle, it can start growing back into the skin and re-aggravate the tender area. In addition, it is essential not to cut the nail too short, as doing so can make the nail bed more tender and more prone to infection.
If an ingrown fingernail causes constant pain, a person can try to slip a tiny piece of damp cotton between the nail and the skin. The cotton can cushion the tender area from the sharp nail while it starts to grow back in its proper alignment. If it is difficult to guide a piece of cotton into place, soaking the finger again can help. Over-the-counter antibiotics should be applied regularly to help prevent infection and reduce inflammation.
If home treatments do not relieve symptoms within two or three weeks, a person should speak with his or her doctor to learn about other treatment options. A physician may be able to insert a piece of medicated cotton under the nail and prescribe a higher-strength antibiotic. If an ingrown fingernail causes significant pain, it may need to be removed surgically. When part or all of the nail is excised, a person needs to keep his or her finger clean and protected for several months until a new nail grows into place.