What is a Hangnail?
Also called an agnail, it is a small, torn piece of skin next to a nail, either at the toe or finger. This piece is usually loose and hangs from the side or bottom of a fingernail. It causes discomfort when one tries to run their finger through their hair or it gets caught up in a cloth.
What is Hangnail infection?
Hangnail infection is a type of skin infection that affect the skin around the fingers i.e. at the hangnail. The medical term commonly applied to this infection is paronychia. However, paronychia is a general term that may be used for any skin infection that occurs around the nail bed, where hangnail infection is one of them.
Causes of an infected hangnail
Several microorganisms are responsible for causing hanging nail infection. But first of all, a hangnail must have been present.
Picture 1 – Hangnail infection on big toe
A hang nail is caused by dry skin and peeling of the skin around the nail bed. Biting of nails also predisposes one to peeling of the skin around the nail bed. Once the area is exposed or injured, microorganisms can easily gain entry.
The common microorganisms that are responsible for the hangnail infection are Bacteria and yeast called Candida.
Symptoms of Hangnail Infection
Depending on the cause of the infected hangnail, the symptoms may appear suddenly (in bacteria infections) or come slowly and last for long time (in fungal infections). These may include:
- The area around the hangnail is swollen and red
- The area is painful
- The nail may look detached or have an abnormal color
- The nail shape may appear abnormal
- Pus may form around the hangnail
Hangnail Infection Treatment
The best way is to avoid formation of the hangnail. To prevent formation of hangnails:
- The area around the nail should be well moisturized. Hand lotion and hand cream can be used to achieve this.
- Avoid biting and picking nails. Nails should be trimmed regularly
- Avoid damaging the skin around the nails. That area should remain smooth
- Protect the nail bed from strong detergents. If you must use these detergents, wear gloves.
- Ensure that the manicure procedure is done by a competent person who also applies high levels of hygiene
When the hangnail occurs, use the following suggested remedies at home which not only heal a hangnail but also prevents further formation:
- Clipping of skin with a clean nail clipper may be done. This must be done carefully to avoid further injury. Do not pull at or try to bite off a hang nail as this may cause the skin to tear.
- Ensure the nail bed remains clean and dry always. The area can be cleaned regularly with water and antiseptic or salt added to prevent infection.
- Keep the areas moisturized with hand creams and avoid harsh detergents. Petroleum jelly left on that nail bed overnight also works well.
- Eating foods rich in essential vitamins and folic acid also ensures that one has healthy nail beds and a supple skin
- Vitamin E oil moistens and softens the nail bed preventing formation of the hangnails.
- Apply honey on the affected area and leave it for several hours. Honey acts as a moisturizer and also has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. It prevents further formation of hangnails.
- Avocado pulp mixed in coconut oil also acts as a moisturizer. If left overnight and washed off in the morning, it works very well. Avocado is high in Vitamin E
- Almonds mixed with little honey and egg York also act as moisturizer and is very high in Vitamin E.
- Natural yoghurt – apply natural yoghurt to the painful hangnail and leave it for some time. Yoghurt has anti-infective and anti-inflammatory properties.
- Bees wax combined with oils acts to soften the cuticles and prevent formation of hang nails.
- Aloe Vera – apply fresh gel form aloe Vera and apply on the affected area. Alternatively mix aloe Vera gel with turmeric powder for a soothing and moisturizing effect.
- Avoid harsh nail polish remover e.g those concentrated with acetone. These removers dry your hands and cuticles predisposing to formation of hang nails
When the area becomes infected and inflamed:
- A topical antibiotic cream can be applied
- Soak the hand or foot in warm salty water and the wipe it dry with a clean towel. A little antiseptic in plain water may also work as well as the salt
Consult a physician if the symptoms become severe or persistent. Symptoms may become worse if the infection spreads to other areas of the body. The signs and symptoms that you may note include:
- Fever and chills
- Joint pain
- Increasing painful and swelling of the nail bed
- Muscle pain
- Loss of appetite
Once you consult the physician, they may:
- Prescribe an oral antibiotic
- Need to perform incision and drainage to release the pus. Incision and drainage is a minor surgical procedure where a small incision is made on the skin to drain pus built up under the skin in this case at the area around the nail bed. The area is then cleaned with an antiseptic and may covered to prevent further infection.
- The pus may be taken to the laboratory to determine the type of microorganism that has caused the infection. This will influence the antibiotic you will be given to take.
Hangnail Infection Pictures
See these pictures to have an idea of how an infected hangnail looks like:
What are the Complications of hangnail infection?
Hangnail infection rarely causes any complications. They may only be annoying when the loose skin gets trapped in hair or cloth during daily activities and cause pain. However, the infection may persist and progress to cause:
- Abscess formation
- Permanent change to the shape of the nail affected
- Partial or complete loss of the nail
- Spread of infection to other areas