Ingrown nails and hangnails are common, sometimes painful, conditions. They can usually be treated at home, but may need medical attention for infection. Ingrown nails occur when the side or corner of the nail grows into the soft flesh of the finger or toe. Pain, redness, swelling and infection can occur. Hangnails aren't nails at all. They are a small flaps of skin that have separated from the nail or cuticle.
Ingrown nails on the hands or feet (the big toe is the most common place for an ingrown nail) should be soaked in a solution of warm water and Epsom salts--1 tbsp. of the salts to 1 cup of water. Soaking three times a day for 10 to 15 minutes per session will relieve tenderness, reduce swelling and draw out infection. The hand or foot can also be gently massaged near the affected nail fold to bring down inflammation.
After each soaking, put a piece of cotton under the edge of the ingrown nail. This will help the nail to eventually grow above the edge of the skin. Next, apply a topical antibiotic, such as Neosporin. Pat dry, then bandage. For pain, take acetaminophen, ibuprofen, naproxen or ketoprofen. It is important to treat ingrown nails as soon as possible. If the pain continues, or pus or redness spreads, consult a general practitioner. An infection that lasts too long can infect the underlying bone.
If there is a medical condition that puts the feet at high risk, such as diabetes, nerve impairment or poor blood circulation, it is better to consult a doctor right away instead of trying home remedies first.
Hangnails should also be soaked in warm water with Epsom salts. (Same proportion of salts and water; same number and length of sessions.) Don't rip or bite off hangnails. This tears living tissue and also leads to a greater chance of infection. Instead, use a pair of clean manicure scissors to trim the hangnail at a slight outward angle. As with ingrown nails, consult a physician if the condition doesn't improve or worsens.
A doctor will treat ingrown nails by trimming or removing the ingrown portion. The area will usually be numbed first by a local injection with an anesthetic. Sometimes, an ingrown nail will reoccur repeatedly. If this happens, the doctor may advise removing a portion of the nail and nail bed--by laser, chemicals or other methods--to prevent the troublesome section from growing back yet again. Antibiotics may also be prescribed. The medical treatment for a hangnail is draining the infected area and/or treating the infection with antibiotics.
You can avoid ingrown toenails by cutting the nails in a fairly straight line. Don't cut the nails too close. File the corners of the nails to smooth sharp edges. Avoid shoes that are tight in the toe. Also avoid shoes that are too loose. These can put pressure on the toes when running or walking briskly. Also, keep fingernails filed to prevent ingrown nails.
To prevent hangnails, use moisturizer on the hands, fingers, and cuticles. Dryness is often the cause of hangnails. Also wear rubber or plastic gloves if the hands are going to be exposed to harsh chemicals or cleaners. If the hands are going to be exposed to water for long amounts of time, it is also a good idea to wear the gloves. Avoid trimming the cuticles. Instead push them back with an orangewood stick or washcloth.