How to Treat Ingrown Fingernails

An ingrown nail develops when one or both sides of your nail grow into the skin. Over time, this can cause pain, swelling, and even infection.

Although ingrown nails are more common in toenails, your fingernails can also become ingrown. An ingrown fingernail can make everyday activities such as typing on a keyboard or holding a pen much more difficult.

This article will discuss what ingrown nails are and why they happen. It will also discuss signs and symptoms, how to treat an ingrown nail, and when to see a healthcare provider.

Woman's fingernails

Konstantin Aksenov EyeEm / Getty Images

What Is an Ingrown Fingernail?

Under normal circumstances, healthy nails grow straight. However, when the nail plate begins to curve downward and grows into the skin, you may end up with an ingrown fingernail. Over time, it can become swollen, painful, and even infected.

Home remedies are often enough to treat an ingrown fingernail, but if you begin to experience severe pain or notice signs of infection, it's important to speak with a healthcare provider.

Signs and Symptoms

The first symptoms of an ingrown fingernail often are tenderness, pain (sometimes throbbing pain on the sides of the nail), and mild swelling. There may be redness or inflammation around the nail, as well. If left untreated, it can lead to severe pain and infection.

Causes

Ingrown fingernails can happen for no apparent reason. However, they often result from cutting the nail too short or not cutting it straight across, causing the nail to grow directly into the skin instead of out.

Other factors contributing to ingrown fingernails include:

  • Washing hands frequently
  • Having curved fingernails
  • Genetic predisposition
  • Fingernail injury
  • Getting manicures
  • Broken nails

Paronychia

Paronychia is an infection of the skin that surrounds a fingernail or toenail. It is characterized by pain and inflammation and can develop within hours. Yellow pus may also develop under the cuticle. Paronychia is often caused by Staphylococcus aureus (bacteria) entering a break in the skin around the nails.

Without proper treatment, it can spread to other nail folds, leading to chronic infection and long-term nail damage.

Felon

A felon is a serious infection deep inside the fingertip. It can lead to a painful, pus-filled abscess. It is often caused by a bacterial infection, primarily from Staphylococcus aureus bacteria.

Paronychia vs. Felon

Although paronychia and felon are infections primarily caused by Staphylococcus aureus bacteria, a felon is often more painful and severe than paronychia. If paronychia is left untreated, it can grow and spread, resulting in a felon.

How to Treat Ingrown Nails at Home

If you are experiencing discomfort and notice your nail is growing into the skin, you may have an ingrown nail. Unless you have diabetes, poor blood circulation to your foot, or an infection, you can treat your ingrown nail at home. You may also take Advil (ibuprofen) or Tylenol (acetaminophen) to relieve pain.

People with diabetes or other conditions that restrict blood flow are at a greater risk for complications related to ingrown nails. They should be extra cautious with nail care and seek medical attention right away if they notice an ingrown toenail.

Treatments

To treat an ingrown fingernail at home:

  • Apply a warm compress or soak your finger in warm water three to four times per day.
  • Keep the finger dry the rest of the day.
  • Apply antibiotic ointment.
  • Place a small piece of wet cotton or dental floss under the nail.

You should never try to cut out the ingrown portion of the nail yourself. This can make the problem worse.

How to Prevent Ingrown Fingernails

Taking preventive measures is key to avoiding painful ingrown fingernails. Keeping your nails trimmed and regularly soaking your nails are all ways to prevent ingrown fingernails.

How to Trim Nails

When trimming your nails, it's important to:

  • Soak your hand in water to soften the nail before trimming
  • Use a clean nail trimmer
  • Trim nails straight across the top and avoid rounding your nails
  • Avoid cutting nails too short

You can also soak your nails in tea tree oil. Tea tree oil has antifungal and antiseptic properties that may help combat nail fungus.

Medical Treatments for Ingrown Nails

When you do not see improvements using home remedies to treat your ingrown nail, your healthcare provider may recommend medical treatment. It is more common to have surgery for ingrown toenails than ingrown fingernails.

Chemical Matricectomy

Partial nail avulsion, which removes the portion of the nail that has grown into the skin, combined with chemical matricectomy, is considered the most successful treatment option for ingrown nails.

The process involves numbing the infected area with local anesthesia and removing the ingrown portion. Next, a chemical agent such as phenol or sodium hydroxide is rubbed into the nail bed. Antibiotic ointment is then applied, and gauze is wrapped around the nail.

Prescription Antibiotics

When infection is present, you may need prescription antibiotics. Your healthcare provider may also prescribe antibiotics after a surgical procedure.

Summary

Most of the time, ingrown nails are caused by improper trimming and can be treated at home. Applying warm compresses to the area and using antibiotic ointment can help the ingrown nail heal faster. However, if you suspect an infection, you should call your healthcare provider.

A Word From Verywell

Ingrown nails can be painful and irritating. Thankfully, with early treatment, they often resolve on their own at home. If your nail becomes infected or you regularly experience ingrown nails, call your healthcare provider to discuss treatment options.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Will an ingrown fingernail heal itself?

    Yes. Ingrown fingernails will usually heal on their own. Soaking your finger in warm water, using antibiotic ointment, and keeping it dry can help it heal faster.

  • Should you dig out an ingrown fingernail?

    No. Cutting or digging out the ingrown part of a fingernail can make the condition worse. Instead, soak the ingrown fingernail in warm water, apply antibiotic ointment, and keep the area dry.

  • How do you know if you have an ingrown fingernail?

    The first signs of an ingrown fingernail are swelling, tenderness, and pain in the skin next to the nail.

  • Why do the side of my fingernails hurt?

    An ingrown fingernail develops when the side of your nail grows into the skin and causes pain and inflammation. If it does not go away within a few days or you notice drainage or infection, you should contact your healthcare provider for an evaluation.

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10 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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