What is nail problems and injuries?

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Nail problems and injuries: Overview

Minor fingernail and toenail problems are common. At one time or another, almost everyone has caught a nail on something, causing it to rip. Or they have smashed a finger in a door, leaving blood under the nail. These kinds of injuries can be quite painful, but they usually aren't serious. You can often relieve pain and prevent infection of minor nail problems at home.

Normally, fingernails grow about one-tenth of a millimeter each day. Toenails grow at about one-half or one-third the rate of the fingernails. Aging and diseases that decrease blood flow to the hands and feet may slow nail growth.

Common nail changes

Common changes to nails include:

Splitting, peeling, or brittle nails.

These are common problems that develop when your hands are often exposed to water, strong soaps, and other chemicals. You may be able to prevent some of these problems if you use lotion and avoid putting your hands in water often.

Color changes.
  • Little white marks (leukonychia) often appear after minor injuries. They may last for weeks or months. They usually go away on their own.
  • It's common for a nail to turn black after an injury. The black or purple-black color is caused by blood under the nail. It will go away as the injury heals.
  • Black, brown, or purple discoloration under a nail that has not been injured may be caused by melanoma.
Changes in the shape or texture of nails.

These may occur for many reasons. Some nail changes, such as the forming of ridges, are normal with aging. Thick, brittle, or dark nails are more common in older adults who have poor circulation.

Ingrown nails.

These are often caused by improper trimming, tight shoes, or heredity. Your nails may grow into the skin that surrounds them. This can cause pain, swelling, and infection. In rare cases, an abscess may form under a nail (subungual abscess).

Separation from the nail bed.

After your nail separates from its nail bed, no matter what the reason, it won't reattach. Nails grow back slowly. It takes about 6 months for fingernails and up to 18 months for toenails to grow back attached to the nail bed.

Infection and allergic reactions.

These are common problems caused by artificial nails. Remove the artificial nail if it causes problems.

Fungal nail infections.

They can vary in appearance depending on the type of fungus or the location of the infection. The infected toenail usually turns white or yellow. It's not unusual for fungal nail infections to follow athlete's foot infections.

Other causes of nail problems

Nail problems can also be caused by:

  • An injury to a nail.
  • Hangnails. A hangnail may lead to a minor infection next to your nails (paronychia). This can cause the skin around the nails to become swollen and tender.
  • Nail-biting. It can lead to fingertips that are red and sore and cuticles that bleed. Nail-biting also increases the chance of bacterial infections around your nail beds and in your mouth.
  • Side effects of medicines, such as chemotherapy and antimalarial medicines.
  • Diseases of the skin, such as psoriasis and eczema.
  • Skin growths, such as warts, cysts, and moles.
  • Other diseases such as Addison's disease, peripheral arterial disease, and HIV infection.

Preventing problems with artificial nails

Here are some tips to help prevent problems with artificial nails.

  • Test for a reaction to the artificial nail by having just one nail applied.

    Wait several days to see whether redness, itching, pain, or rash around or under the nail or separation of the nail from the nail bed develops.

  • Do not apply an artificial nail if the nail or the skin around the nail looks irritated or infected.
  • Dip your fingertip into rubbing alcohol for 15 seconds if it separates from the nail bed.

    This will clean the space between the nails. Then reattach the artificial nail.

  • Do not wear artificial nails for longer than 3 months at a time.

    Give your natural nails a month to rest before reapplying artificial nails.

Caring for a nail problem or injury

Home treatment can help relieve pain, prevent infection, and promote healing. Try these tips to help relieve pain from an injury to the nail.

  • Apply ice, and prop up the injured nail.

    Do this as soon as you can after the injury.

  • Trim a torn or detached nail, and tape the nail in place.
  • Try to drain blood from under the nail if you have pain.
    Do not drain blood from under your nail if you have diabetes, peripheral arterial disease, or an immune system problem, or if you think a bone is broken.
  • If you have an ingrown toenail, try soaking your toe.

    You can also use a small pad of wet cotton. This helps the ingrown toenail heal on its own.

  • Trim a hangnail.

    You don't want the hangnail to tear your skin.

  • Take off an artificial nail if you are having problems with it.
  • Try gloves or lotions to protect weak, brittle, or splitting nails.
  • Watch for any signs of a skin infection around a nail.

Treating problems when you have artificial nails

Try home treatment for problems with artificial nails.

  • Remove the nail.

    Do not put on another one if:

    • You suspect an infection or an allergic reaction to the artificial nail.
    • Your natural nail separates from the nail bed while you are wearing an artificial nail. The artificial nail may catch and tear the nail bed if you leave it on.
  • Clean the space between the two nails if an artificial nail has separated from your natural nail and you don't suspect an infection.

    Dip your fingertip into rubbing alcohol for about 15 seconds before reattaching the artificial nail.

What are some problems you might have with artificial nails?

Common problems may develop with artificial nails, such as:

  • Bacterial infection. You may dislodge an artificial nail from the nail bed by bumping it or catching it. Infection can develop in the gap that forms between the two nails, especially if the artificial nail is reglued before a thorough cleaning.
  • Fungal nail infection. This can occur when moisture collects under acrylic nails. It is more common with nails that are left on for 3 months or longer. This type of infection can also happen if you reglue the artificial nail before you clean the gap.
  • An allergic skin reaction to the products used to apply the artificial nails. You may develop itching, redness, and swelling around the nail. The reaction may cause the natural nail to separate from the nail bed.

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The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.