Hangnails are annoying tiny skin tears that appear when a small piece of skin separates from the edge of a fingernail or the cuticle. They can be caused by several reasons, including nail-biting, clipping the cuticles too near to the nail bed, a lousy manicure, applying harsh detergents and soaps, using alcohol-based hand sanitizer, dryness in skin, being in the cold, having waterlogged hands (this happens after staying in water for too long), etc.
These can also result in paronychia, an infection that can be unpleasant occasionally. This inflammation affects the skin and tissue on the sides of the fingernail or at its base, resulting in swollen fingers. Because of germs and bacteria that come into contact with our hands on a regular basis, hangnails frequently get infected. They may be little, but they nevertheless cause discomfort, pain, and annoyance.
In spite of the name, hangnails are not a component of the nail. If not properly cared for, the rough little bits of skin that sometimes occur on the sides of the nails can be bothersome. Among the many causes of hangnails is brittle, damaged skin. Since dry skin is more likely to develop in the winter, hangnails might happen more frequently. One may be more susceptible to developing hangnails if they engage in any activity that makes their hand skin dry.
Though these are little, if they hook on to clothes or hair, they can be extremely painful. Additionally, they have the potential of getting infected, therefore it is crucial to properly care for and remove them to prevent deep wounds, scarring, infections, and inflammation. When the hangnail is pulled out to be removed, the healthy portion of the skin may also be torn away, which may result in bleeding and discomfort.
The gap in the skin caused by a ripped hangnail might acquire bacteria and lead to infection because hands contact so many things every day. In most cases, hangnails are simple to treat and avoid. Also, frequent use of nail polish remover and brittle nails caused by a compromised immune system can lead to hangnails. Additionally, swimming in a chlorinated pool may dry up the skin and result in this condition.
If one occasionally gets a manicure, they should be sure to push the cuticles back rather than cutting them as it might cause hangnails. Swelling, redness, and pain are typical hangnail symptoms that get worse over time. Often the skin may swell, feel tender, and hurt on the portion of the damaged nail bed. If it feels warm or produces pus, this could be an abscess.
Hangnails are quite typical. However, if a person gets one, it won’t get cured on its own, so the key is to avoid getting one in the first place. The area around the fingernails may be irritated or infected if one experiences pain there. An ingrown or diseased nail is not the same thing as a hangnail. Moreover, the earliest possible treatment should be given for infected hangnails. The ailment is frequently treated at home effectively.
The absence of oil from the fingernail skin will show up as hangnails. Dry winter air, frequent hand washing, and rough chemicals like cleaning solutions can all lead to dry skin, which can reduce the amount of oil in the skin. This condition is triggered by a weakened nail bed. One can also be susceptible to getting hangnails if they suck thumb, suffer from diabetes, are vulnerable to ingrown nails, and are immunocompromised.
Hangnails might also result from deficits in zinc, protein, vitamin C, and folic acid. The temptation to rip off or bite off a hangnail might be strong. There are a few reasons why that is a bad and harmful idea. By biting the hangnails, one risks spreading bacteria from their mouth that could cause an illness. Additionally, it might transfer germs from the hands into the mouth.
One might become ill as a result of these microorganisms. By incorrectly trimming the hangnail, one runs the risk of removing live tissue and prolonging the period of discomfort. A hangnail infection might get worse if one ignores it. Rarely, if the infection isn't treated it might spread to other body parts. One should consult their doctor if the hangnail doesn’t go away in a week.
Symptoms of Hangnails
A hangnail can itch and become extremely uncomfortable after it has developed. Although it may be difficult to comprehend how something so tiny might hurt so severely, the reason for this is based on the location and composition of the skin.
Hangnails develop near the base or edges of the nail, which is rich in blood vessels and nerve endings. When a hangnail swells and becomes inflamed, it presses against these nerve endings, making a person feel worse. The signs of hangnails are-
- Noticeable, protruding piece of skin.
- Redness at the bottom, or on the side of the nail bed.
- Uneasiness, pain, or tenderness.
- A warm sensation.
- A blister with pus in the afflicted area.
As soon as a hangnail becomes infected, one can identify the symptoms. An infection that persists for a long time may change the colour of the nail or extend to the body areas. These signs of a bacterial illness could appear out of the blue. If one has a fungus infection, the symptoms could appear more gradually. People with diabetes or those who spend a lot of time with their hands in water are more likely to develop fungus infections.
When to Visit a Doctor for Hangnails
An infected hangnail should be treated right away. A topical antibiotic ointment can usually be used to treat infected hangnails at home. Although uncommon, hangnail infections can occasionally spread to other body parts. Don’t bite, pull, tear, or chew off the hangnail, despite the want to do so for a fast remedy.
One can suffer red, itchy, skin near the hangnail portion if it becomes infected. People can get a fever or chills in case the infection increases or gets worse. The ordinary hangnail doesn’t necessitate an appointment with the doctor, but if any of the following occurs or if it lasts more than a week, a person should consult their physician-
- If one is diabetic.
- If there is frequent bleeding because of a medical issue.
- In case it takes longer than a week to heal.
- From the hangnail, if the infection spreads to the finger or nail lower down.
- If the nail weakens or changes colour.
- If there is extreme pain and swelling.
To check for symptoms of infection, the doctor would examine the hangnail. Just by taking a look at it, they might be able to identify the hangnail. In other instances, the doctor could decide to extract a specimen of any pus-infected tissue and send it to a lab for additional testing. A prescription for an oral or topical antibiotic may be required. The hangnail should go away after receiving stronger medicine within 5-7 days.
Depending on the severity of the infection, the doctor might prescribe an antibiotic and decide on the appropriate kind of treatment for the infection. Sometimes the doctor might need to drain the pus for curing the infection. This gets rid of the bacteria and might help the area feel less tense. In other cases, one can treat the infection using some of the same methods one uses to cure hangnails, such as soaking hands in warm water and antibiotic cream.
Treatment of Hangnails
What not to do is equally important and equally crucial as what to do when it comes to treating hangnails. Avoid giving in to the urge to rip or bite the hangnail off because the skin will split unevenly as a result, aggravating the skin’s surrounding area. This could potentially shred the skin that is still affixed to the nail bed. To successfully and securely remove a hangnail at home-
- First, reduce the excess skin. It is a good idea to remove the extra skin that surrounds it. In addition, to improve the body's capacity to heal the wound, minimizing the quantity of extra skin lowers the risk of snagging the hangnail throughout the day.
- To prevent introducing germs to the affected area, wash your hands.
- Spend 10-15 minutes soaking the fingertips in a big bowl of clean and warm water. Otherwise, soapy, warm water can also be used for softening the skin and nails, making it easier to cut the hangnail away simply. This can be done 2 to 4 times daily.
The best option for all needs is bottled water since it is free of pollutants, according to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The second best choice, if one doesn’t have access to bottled water, is to boil the tap water and then let it cool to a suitable temperature.
Bacteria, viruses, or parasites that hide in water can infect a person through a damaged nail bed into the bloodstream by exposing it to boiling water.
- Mineral oil, olive oil, petroleum jelly, vitamin E oil, or another type of moisturizer can all be applied very gently to the hands in a circular motion, paying particular attention to the hangnail region. Allow the hangnail to hydrate and soften for about 10 minutes.
- Dry your hands. To keep the hangnail from sticking onto anything and to lower the risk of additional infection, gently clip it straight with sterilized cuticle scissors or nail clippers to carefully remove it. Trim it as close to the nail bed as possible. Avoid pressing too hard since this can result in bleeding. Apply pressure to the region until the bleeding stops if that occurs.
However, be careful not to remove more skin than necessary since this can also be uncomfortable. If one makes a deep incision and it bleeds, wash with warm water, and apply antibacterial ointment to avoid infection. Cover the affected region with a bandage until it is healed completely. If the dominant hand is the one with the hangnail, doing this could be challenging.
In this case, one should ask someone else to help them if they are unable to cut it alone. One should ensure that they simply remove the protruding portion of the hangnail and leave the living skin intact. To prevent anything from sticking out from the nail bed, it is advised to remove as much of the dead skin as possible.
Make sure to position the cuticle nipper directly next to the hangnail’s base and to open and close the tool, avoid pulling it. In addition to causing deep, uncomfortable hangnails, cutting too close to the flesh can worsen the issue and even result in infections.
- Apply moisturizer to the affected region for a few days to stop it from drying out and to prevent the growth of additional hangnails. To aid in the prevention of infection in the hangnail area, one can use an over-the-counter antibiotic ointment or add another layer of petroleum jelly once daily. This is another self-care alternative for treating hangnails.
Using a bandage to enclose the area after applying the cream will be beneficial. This will assist the antibiotic cream to stay in place and stop bacteria from seeping into the hangnail while it heals. The antibacterial ointment will boost healing by assisting in the killing and prevention of bacteria in the hangnail area. To completely cover the damaged region, a minimal amount is all that is required.
Vitamin E oil should be used to hangnail region many times each day until it completely heals. It’s important to take this step after washing hands. To hydrate the area, fight dryness, and keep the hands soft, one can apply coconut oil, honey, petroleum jelly, or olive oil. Also, in the case of small, shallow hangnails one can apply vitamin E oil.
This oil is very hydrating and is easily absorbed into the skin. In addition to this, using any type of moisturizer on the hands would stop the cuticles from becoming brittle and dry, which increases the risk of developing hangnails. This should be done several times a day, mainly after using hot water and cleaning the hands. Maintaining moisture promotes wound healing faster.
- Washing hands and cleaning under the fingernails are both wise precautions to take in addition to using an antibiotic ointment directly on the hangnail itself. Infectious germs can cause brittle nails and hangnails. One can stop the infection from returning and getting worse by washing the area around the nails and applying an antibiotic cream on it.
This will speed up recovery. Based on the critical condition of the hangnail, Neosporin is a good option. Getting medical help is advisable in case the finger is swollen, changes colour, or leaks. If the area develops an infection, one might need oral antibiotics.
- Taking an over-the-counter painkiller is also advisable. This method won’t cure the hangnail, but it will help to lessen the agony it causes. Advil or Tylenol can be taken for quick relief from the pain of hangnails. An ice pack can also aid in pain management. Use the medication exactly as prescribed and one should not compromise on moisturizing and other preventive measures.
Early intervention may stop symptoms from getting worse, such as the growth of abscesses or an infection that spreads up the affected finger. Hangnails can cause problems including cellulitis, a frequent bacterial infection, and fungal infections, all of which need treatment. Cellulitis symptoms include swelling and redness all the way up the finger.
How to Prevent Hangnails
Hangnails can be avoided with good skin care. Here are a few bits of advice-
- During the winter, one should wear gloves to protect their hands.
- When carrying out tasks that are rough on the skin, like dishwashing, household cleaning, and gardening, people should wear rubber gloves.
- Even while getting a manicure from a professional, avoid cutting the cuticles. Instead, immerse the cuticles in warm water and gently push them back using an orange cuticle stick that has been made just for this. Additionally, one can use a gel cuticle remover or do this after taking a bath or shower. In either case, moisturizing afterward is essential.
- Always keeping the hands and cuticles moisturized is very important. Numerous products are effective for this purpose to keep the nail beds moisturized. One can consider applying petroleum jelly or an emollient hand cream made for treating dry and cracked skin. In a hurry, one might even apply diaper rash cream.
It is recommended to apply a generous layer of the preferred product to the hands and massage it inside the cuticles just before bed. Nevertheless, one shouldn't simply apply some hand cream in the morning only. Pay close attention to massaging the oils and lotions well into the cuticles. Throughout the day, regularly apply cuticle oil or lotion, especially just after washing hands.
- One should try to come up with strategies to quit biting the nails if they do, by applying bitter-tasting nail lacquer.
- Use of products with acetone, which is frequently present in nail polish remover, should be reduced or discontinued. The skin, hands, and nail beds get dried from acetone. Instead, opt for something milder, such as less abrasive nail polish removers. Apply a remover that has hydrating components like glycerin, soy, and vitamin E. Also, avoid using harsh soaps.
- Avoid biting the nails or picking at the cuticles. It harms the region around the nails and the nails themselves. Hangnails are more likely to develop as a result. The germs in the mouth make it more likely for a hangnail to become infected when the fingers are in and around the mouth.
- Consume a diet that is well-balanced and has plenty of water. Eat food that is high in calcium, B vitamins, and iron to strengthen the nails and avoid future hangnails. If the normal diet doesn't provide one with enough vitamins, one might want to consume vitamin and biotin supplements. To stay hydrated, one must drink a minimum of 8 glasses of water each day.
- At night, people should apply a heavier cream or vitamin E oil, or argan oil on their hands and cuticles. It will soften and hydrate the nail beds and provide an extra boost of healing moisture. One should choose light cuticle oils made from grape seed, sesame, kukui, and sunflower.
When the hands start to feel dry or a hangnail starts to protrude, reapply as needed throughout the day. After the hangnail softens, one can carefully cut it away. However, avoid cutting very near the skin.
- Remove hangnails when they are still little using a cuticle nipper, rather than picking at them or pulling the skin off. Waiting makes the situation worse. Additionally, getting regular manicures and nail trims are recommended.
This will delay the emergence of hangnails. By doing this, the hangnails are prevented from catching on clothing and ripping more deeply. One is most likely to have an infection if the area around the hangnail turns red and inflamed.
- Use coconut oil to soak the nails at home for giving the hands a spa experience. This will soften the cuticles and deeply hydrate the skin. After that, wrap the hands in hot towels, and make sure to hydrate with cream or lotion.
- Whenever the hands get wet, make sure to completely dry them. Water can aggravate discomfort by acting as an irritant. To stay hydrated and moisturized throughout the day, drink adequate water.
- Maintain regular nail trimming. Nail clippers can be used to cut nails and prevent them from getting excessively long. This may aid in preventing the growth of hangnails. Regular manicures can help maintain strong nails and manage the rate of development.
Hence, hangnails are minor injuries, but they can nevertheless irritate and hurt, making it difficult to carry out regular activities. They can be avoided by moisturizing the skin and making a few simple lifestyle adjustments. Hangnails are frequent, particularly during winter. Nevertheless, the majority of them will disappear without any indication of illness.
In case hangnails are infected, they require the proper care, much of which may be performed at home. One should consult their doctor if the infected hangnail does not get better after a week or gets worse. The symptoms are supposed to go away within some days after receiving medical attention for the infected hangnail. It could take several weeks to fully recover in case of a chronic situation.
Thank you for reading!
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