Hangnails seem inconsequential in nature, especially when compared to more significant injuries like scratches, cuts, or burns. Yet even a simple hangnail can be painful, and if not treated properly, may lead to irritation and even infection. Those with diabetes or other neurological conditions need to protect their hands and feet against any type of injury or inflammation.

When you first notice a hangnail, here are some easy things to do:

  1. Wash the air with warm water and antibacterial soap. Plain soap will do if you don’t have the other. Dry your hands thoroughly or allow them to air dry. Use manicure scissors to gently snip the hanging skin alongside the fingernail. If the skin flap is too great or too deep, and removing it will be painful, let it go for now. But continue to watch it and possibly remove the hanging skin over the next day or two.
  2. Apply a thin amount of antibiotic cream, the kind you can buy over the counter at most pharmacies or grocery stores. If the hangnail is larger than a quarter-inch, you may want to cover it with a slim plastic bandage to keep dirt out and allow time for healing. Follow this procedure once a day if the hangnail seems small or normal, or twice a day for larger areas. You may need to do this for two or three days, or until visible healing begins to take place.
  3. Check the hangnail daily as you replace the ointment and bandage. After a day or two, it may no longer be painful, and you can stop applying antibiotic cream or a bandage. But if the skin comes off and results in a large open or red area on your finger, continue to follow the antiseptic process with ointment and bandage until the new layer of skin grows over the area. For larger areas, this may take a day or two longer.
  4. Look for signs of irritation or redness. Pus, oozing, swelling, significant discomfort, or a red streak should be reported to the doctor immediately. Most hangnails resolve on their own with little consequence. But there are records of people who have died or been taken to the critical care unit of a hospital due to seemingly mild injuries like a foot blister or a hand splinter. Pay attention to anything that looks unusual and ask your doctor to be sure nothing serious is going on.
  5. Prevent hangnails by keeping your entire body hydrated. This means drinking six to eight glasses of fluid, preferably water, each day. Moisturize your hands with lotion or cream; in the winter or throughout the year if your skin is extra dry, you may want to do this twice a day or even wear cream at night. When you work in the soil or outdoors, or with any dirty or contaminated substance, wash your hands afterward. Wear thin cotton gloves when you sleep, work with dirty things, or when indicated to help an injury heal.

Hangnails are not generally serious. But they can be a painful nuisance. Take care of them promptly and you should not experience serious problems.

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