Aside from the occasional nagging hangnail, you may not give your nails a lot of thought, but they can reveal a surprising amount about your health. Certain conditions may even lead to painful symptoms in the nails.
One of the most common issues that can cause led to nail pain is an ingrown toenail: usually affecting the big toe, it’s when the nail begins to grow into the skin surrounding the nail bed, instead of over it. This most often happens because the nail is trimmed too short or with the edges too rounded, but it can also be the result of wearing shoes that are too small, which compresses the toes; athletes who regularly kick a ball may be more susceptible. Signs of an ingrown nail include redness and swelling, as well as being painful to the touch; if it gets infected, it may also drain pus.
Despite the name, hangnails are not actually hanging bits of nails — it’s a small piece of skin that has torn loose. Aside from the painful stinging and irritation, they also increase the chances of developing an infection. To treat a hangnail, don’t try to rip or pull it off: wash and dry your hands, then use nail clippers to trim it as close as possible; if the area is painful, red, or swollen, you may need to apply antibiotic ointment and wrap it in a bandage. Because they often occur as the result of dry skin, moisturizing regularly can help prevent them.
Certain fungal infections can cause symptoms like pain and separation from the nail bed as well as discoloration and peeling. You can develop a fungal infection as the result of tiny cuts around your fingers, regular exposure to warm, moist environments, or as a complication from diabetes. It’s more common — and harder to treat — in toenails than in fingernails, since toes tend to be confined in sweaty socks and close-toed shoes. Many fungal infections respond to over the counter treatment, but if they persist, consult a dermatologist; if you have diabetes and develop a fungal infection, see your doctor right away.
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