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
has smashed a finger in a door, leaving blood under the nail. These kinds of
injuries can be quite painful but are usually not 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
Common nail changes include:
Splitting, peeling, or brittle nails. These are
common problems that develop when your hands are frequently exposed to water,
strong soaps, and other chemicals. You may be able to prevent some of these
problems if you use lotion and avoid repeatedly putting your hands in
Little white marks (leukonychia) often appear
after minor injuries. They may last for weeks or months and usually go away on
It is common for a nail to turn black after an injury.
The black or purple-black color is caused by blood under the nail and will go
away as the injury heals.
Black, brown, or purple discoloration
under a nail that has not been injured may be caused by
Changes in the shape or texture of nails, which may occur for a variety of reasons. Some nail changes, such
as the formation of ridges, are normal with aging. Thick, brittle, or dark
nails are more common in older adults who have poor
Ingrown nails, which are often caused by improper
trimming, tight shoes, or heredity. Your nails may grow into the surrounding
skin, causing pain, swelling, and
infection. In rare cases, an
abscess may develop under a nail (subungual
Separation from the nail bed. Once your
nail separates from its nail bed, for whatever reason, it will not 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
Are there red streaks leading away from the area or pus draining from it?
Red streaks or pus
Red streaks or pus
Do you have an ingrown nail?
Ingrown means that the nail has grown into the skin instead of over it.
Have you had nail problems for more than 2 weeks?
Nail problems for more than 2 weeks
Nail problems for more than 2 weeks
Seek Care Now
Based on your answers, you may need care right away. The problem is likely to get worse without medical care.
Call your doctor now to discuss the symptoms and
arrange for care.
If you cannot reach your doctor or you don't have
one, seek care in the next hour.
You do not need to call an
You cannot travel safely either by driving
yourself or by having someone else drive you.
You are in an area
where heavy traffic or other problems may slow you down.
Certain health conditions and medicines weaken the immune system's ability to fight off infection and
illness. Some examples in adults are:
Diseases such as diabetes, cancer, heart disease,
Long-term alcohol and drug
Steroid medicines, which may be used to treat a variety
Chemotherapy and radiation therapy for
Other medicines used to treat autoimmune
Medicines taken after organ transplant.
having a spleen.
Many things can affect how your body responds to a symptom and what kind
of care you may need. These include:
Your age. Babies and older
adults tend to get sicker quicker.
Your overall health. If you have a condition such as diabetes, HIV, cancer, or heart
disease, you may need to pay closer attention to certain symptoms and seek care
Medicines you take. Certain
medicines, herbal remedies, and supplements can cause symptoms or make them
Recent health events, such as surgery
or injury. These kinds of events can cause symptoms afterwards or make them
Your health habits and lifestyle, such as eating and exercise habits, smoking, alcohol or drug
use, sexual history, and travel.
Pain in adults and older children
Severe pain (8 to 10): The pain
is so bad that you can't stand it for more than a few hours, can't sleep, and
can't do anything else except focus on the pain.
Moderate pain (5 to 7): The pain is bad enough to disrupt your
normal activities and your sleep, but you can tolerate it for hours or days.
Moderate can also mean pain that comes and goes even if it's severe when it's
Mild pain (1 to 4): You notice the pain,
but it is not bad enough to disrupt your sleep or activities.
Try Home Treatment
You have answered all the questions. Based on your answers, you may be
able to take care of this problem at home.
Try home treatment to relieve the
Call your doctor if symptoms get worse or you have any
concerns (for example, if symptoms are not getting better as you would expect).
You may need care sooner.
Aspirin (also a nonsteroidal
anti-inflammatory drug), such as Bayer or Bufferin
Talk to your child's doctor before switching back and
forth between doses of acetaminophen and ibuprofen. When you switch between two
medicines, there is a chance your child will get too much medicine.
Be sure to follow these
safety tips when you use a nonprescription medicine:
Carefully read and follow all directions
on the medicine bottle and box.
your cuticles. Even a minor cut alongside your nail can cause
Do not bite or pick at your nails.
To prevent a fungal nail infection:
Keep your feet clean and dry. Dry feet are less
likely to become infected. Apply powder to your feet when
Wear clean, dry socks. Change your socks once a day or more
frequently if they become wet.
Wear roomy shoes that allow air to
circulate around your feet.
Wear shower sandals or shower shoes
when you use public pools, spas, and showers.
To 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.
artificial nail does separate from the nail bed, dip your fingertip into
rubbing alcohol for 15 seconds before reattaching the artificial nail. This
will clean the space between the nails.
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.
How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.