Anyone can have a hangnail. Some people are more vulnerable to having one or more hangnails, especially those who have dry skin, frequently wash their hands or have a habit of picking their fingers.
Those who have to work for prolonged hours and mostly using their hands are also more vulnerable to this condition.
Hangnails are curable and they are not a serious problem, unless they get infected.
What Is a Hangnail?
Hangnails are pieces of skin, typically drier than normal, that develop at the root of a nail. The piece of dry skin may appear torn and jagged. Hangnail is more common on fingers than on toes.
However, the condition developing around toenails is not unheard of but is certainly rare. A hangnail will subside naturally.
It may take a week or longer. Some people do not need any treatment and the hangnails subside in less than a week.
The condition can get complicated if someone pulls the skin, pick on their fingers or continue to stress their hands and the fingers in particular, which will worsen the condition or delay the natural healing.
Hangnail is not an ingrown nail. It is only a skin condition and not any anomaly of the nail. Hangnails are more common during winters.
Dry climate can worsen hangnails. Excessive exposure to water also facilitates the development of this condition. There has to be a fine balance between moisture and dryness to prevent and to remedy the condition.
Hangnail gets infected when it gets exposed to fungus or bacteria. This is referred to as infected hangnail and requires a different treatment.
Why Do We Get Hangnails?
One of the most common causes of hangnail is dry skin. Those who have naturally dry skin or their skin turns drier during winters can have hangnails.
Nail biting is a common cause. Any injury to the fingers and nails wherein the skin around the root of the nail has been damaged or a cuticle gets cut too closely will increase the likelihood of having a hangnail.
Those who have to work with their hands and the fingers remain exposed to or submerged in some kind of liquid, including water, can have more hangnails than those who do not have to deal with such an environment.
It is not uncommon for people to have a history of hangnail. There are different kinds of dry skin. Not everyone who has dry skin is equally prone to this condition.
If your skin has a tendency to crack and become rather jagged, if you have naturally fragile skin and it gets inflamed too easily, then you are at greater risk of having hangnails. Nail care also plays a role.
How you cut your nails, if you are keeping the fingers and the nails cleaned and sanitized, chemicals you expose your digits to and lifestyle including diet and hydration play a role as well.
Why Do Hangnails Hurt?
Hangnails hurt because of irritation. Redness and swelling are the symptoms of inflammation. Severe pain, swelling, redness and irritation are signs of an infection.
An infected hangnail is a condition called Paronychia. Hangnails should not hurt too much if they are not infected. Uninfected hangnails will feel tender. There may be a warm feeling around the root of the nail and moderate redness. Swelling will be mild.
If swelling is substantial and the hangnail is painful to touch or just hurts on its own without any external interaction, then it is likely to be infected already.
Infected hangnail can have a blister filled with pus. If an infected hangnail is not treated, then the infection will spread and can lead to discoloration of the nail.
It is possible for the infection to spread beyond the nail, to the finger and then the hands, before it spreads to different parts of your body.
How To Stop Hangnails?
The most effective way to stop hangnails is to eliminate the causes. It is thus necessary to understand the cause in the first place.
If someone has a habit of picking a finger or two, then it has to stop. If anyone is exposing their hands and fingers to excessive moisture or water, then care should be taken to prevent that or the nails should be taken care of.
Wearing waterproof gloves or other protective steps can help. Those who have dry skin should consider moisturizing their hands.
Moderate moisturizing helps at all times. It is imperative during harsh winters.
Diabetics should exercise caution if they have a hangnail. Diabetics are more vulnerable to fungal infections in hangnails.
Diet and hydration play a key role for anyone who has a hangnail. Both contribute to the wellness of your skin. Personal hygiene or cleanliness usually does not play a causal role but it can facilitate worsening of the condition after it has already developed.
How To Treat An Infected Hangnail
Infected hangnails can be treated with home remedies.
You can use warm water to soak the hangnail and the surrounding infected area. You should do this at least once a day for around twenty minutes.
Severe cases of infection may require two sessions every day of twenty minutes each. As the hangnail becomes softer and the infection is contained, you can cut the piece of skin with cuticle clippers. You may want to get rid of the rough edges of a hangnail to prevent another infection.
Use a cream or oil containing vitamin E to prevent a second hangnail in the same area.
You can get an antibiotic cream to treat bacterial infection. You must wrap the affected area using a bandage after applying antibiotic cream.
Do not cut the hangnail without any of these remedies. Ripping it off will have an adverse effect. These remedies should work.
If they fail to provide you relief and the hangnail does not subside in a week or ten days, consult a doctor and do not experiment with any other treatment that you are not sure of.