Ingrown fingernails occur when the edge of a fingernail grows into the skin surrounding it. The usual cause of ingrown fingernails is improper trimming of the nail, although nail biting or an injury to the hand that tears the nail can be the culprit too. And sometimes the natural shape or thickness of the nail can make you more susceptible to ingrown nails. Whatever the cause, they range from annoying to excruciatingly painful, and the American Academy of Dermatology warns an ingrown nail can become infected if left untreated.
Soak the finger in warm water two or three times a day for 15 to 20 minutes each day to reduce swelling. Be sure to dry the area thoroughly after soaking, since leaving the area wet could allow the nail to dig in more deeply.
Wedge a small piece of cotton under the edge of the nail immediately after soaking to lift it away from the skin. Continue this for a few days to see if it helps. Fingernails grow an average of 2 to 3 mm each month, according to the American Academy of Dermatology, so keeping the nail lifted away should allow it to grow past the skin fairly quickly.
Take over-the-counter pain medication such as ibuprofen for the pain if necessary, and apply antibiotic cream to help fight infection. However, the Mayo Clinic warns that pus or redness may mean an infection has already taken hold; if this occurs, you should visit a doctor as soon as possible.
Go to the doctor if the nail shows no signs of improvement after three or four days of home treatment, even if there is no visible sign of infection. A doctor has methods for treating an ingrown fingernail that can range from trimming away the ingrown part of the nail to removal of an entire portion of the nail and the nail bed.