How to Treat a Smashed Fingernail
In this day and age, it is very unlikely for children to reach adulthood without experiencing at least one smashed fingernail. We’ve all been victims of an unsuspecting car door slamming on our finger or even getting our finger smashed by a hammer. Whatever the cause of the injury, the result is usually the same: a swollen, bruised, and sometimes bleeding fingertip. The initial response can create a bit of a shock, but as time goes by and the nail begins to darken and loosen from the underlying skin, panic can set in. Did I treat it right? What if my nail falls off? In order to save you from worry, let’s go over the proper way to treat a smashed fingernail and what to expect throughout the healing process.
Step One: Cold Water or Ice
The first step you should take immediately after the incident occurs is to run the digit under cool running water or place an ice pack on it. You can create your own ice pack using a zip-top bag and a tea towel or thin cloth. Apply the ice or keep the digit under cool water for about twenty minutes. The purpose of keeping the tissues cool is to prevent them from swelling up too badly. A bit of swelling will occur even after the fingernail is treated with ice or cold water, however it should be a great deal lessened. Keep applying the ice for twenty minutes with four hour intervals between. Do this for the first twenty-four hours. Do not keep the ice on for longer than twenty minutes unless directed to by a doctor, as this could cause cellular damage similar to that which occurs in the early stages of frost bite.
Step Two: Take in the Damage
The next step in treating a smashed fingernail is to assess the extent of the damage to determine whether you should (or can) treat it at home. If the finger is obviously bent and cannot be straightened, then you need to see a doctor. This is a sign that the tissues have been severely damaged and the tip of the finger bone may actually be broken. It is also necessary to see a doctor if blood begins to pool in the fingertip. While a certain amount of pressure is expected, sometimes the damage can lead to excessive blood draining into the area. If there is no opening from which the blood to drain out, then it will simply build and build leading to an immense throbbing ache in your digit. If blood pools under more than one third of the fingernail, then you should call your doctor. This type of pressure should be corrected by a doctor, who will simply drill a hole into the fingernail to allow the excess blood out. If the area is simply red, bruised, swollen, or scratched, then it is probably okay for you to pursue treatment at home.
Step Three: Wash the Nail
It is very important that you keep the nail clean to prevent any infection. Even if the skin or nail does not appear to be broken, it is a good idea to take preventative measure to ensure that bacteria, dirt, and other harmful agents do not find their way in. Use soap and lukewarm water to gently cleanse the area. Steer clear of using hot water as this can encourage swelling. If the nail appears to have dirt in an area that cannot be reached, such as up under the nail itself, then you may want to go to a doctor, as this could cause an infection.
Step Four: Pain Medication
NSAIDS (Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs) are a great way to relieve pain and prevent further swelling and discomfort. Examples of these include naproxen (Aleve) or ibuprofen (Motrin). Take the medication as per the directions on the box until you the worst of the pain is gone. Bear in mind that the finger will be sensitive for a long time, so be gentle with it.
Nail Falls Off
It is not uncommon for a fingernail to become so damaged that it turns black and falls off. This process is largely painless but does look at a bit raunchy. As long as the skin around and under the nail appears to be in good health, then you should be fine. After the damaged nail falls off a new healthy nail will begin to grow in its place. Expect the new nail to take several months to completely grow in.