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How do I Treat an Ingrown Fingernail?

By D. Jeffress
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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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.

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Discussion Comments
By anon942332 — On Mar 27, 2014

Burcinc, do you use hand sanitizer or drying harsh soap? They both cause my nails to splinter and become brittle and ingrown. Try to start using moisturizing soap.

By ZipLine — On Aug 27, 2013

My friend also has an ingrown nail issue and she uses this little spring thing that she attaches to the ridge of the fingernail. The spring lifts the nail as it grows so that it doesn't become ingrown.

By turquoise — On Aug 27, 2013

@burcinc-- I think that you must be trimming your nails wrong. I don't know why you would be getting recurrent ingrown fingernails otherwise. Try to cut your nails straight across. Don't cut into the sides. When you do that, the nail grows outward into the skin rather than straight out.

So just take a nail clipper and cut your nails horizontally across from the top. Leave the sides straight, don't cut them. This should resolve the issue.

If this doesn't work or if you get a nail infection, see a doctor.

By burcinc — On Aug 26, 2013

How can I prevent recurrent ingrown fingernails?

I get ingrown nails all the time. When it starts to hurt, I trim the nail down and the pain usually goes away in a day or two. But as soon as the nail grows again, the ingrown nail problem returns. I'm so tired of this. I need permanent ingrown fingernail relief.

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