If preventative measures are too late in coming and you already have a hangnail brewing, there are some things you can do to treat a hangnail -- and none of them involve ripping, tearing or biting.
If you have a hangnail, the first thing you should do is try to soften it; cutting a dry hangnail can lead to additional skin tearing and start a vicious hangnail cycle. Begin by soaking your finger or fingers in warm water for a few minutes. Then clip the hangnail with cuticle scissors to prevent jagged edges that might tear. After clipping the hangnail, massage some lotion into the nail bed. Continue to do this a few times a day until the hangnail has healed [source: WebMD]. You can also use an antibacterial lotion at the site of the hangnail, and if the hangnail is deep, you might cover it with a bandage until it heals completely.
If you notice that the area around a hangnail has become red, swollen or filled with pus, you probably have an infection. For bacterial paronychia, you can start at home by soaking the area in hot water two or three times a day. If after a few days there is no improvement or the infection has gotten worse, see your doctor -- you may need prescription antibiotics. And in the case of infections that are swollen and pus-filled, your doctor may need to drain the area [source: WebMD]. If you suspect that you have fungal paronychia, consult your doctor immediately. You may need a prescription for anti-fungal medication [source: MedlinePlus].
To learn more about hangnails and other nail conditions, check out the links below.
Related HowStuffWorks Articles
- Bruno, Karen. "Women's Hand and Nail Care." (Accessed 10/6/09)http://www.webmd.com/skin-beauty/advances-skin-care-9/strong-nails-hands
- Canagas, Joseph E., M.D. "What is a wart?" Illini Pediatrics, LLC. (Accessed 10/7/09) http://www.illinipediatrics.com/files/wart.pdf
- Gibson, Lawrence E. "Does nail biting cause any long-term nail damage?" Mayo Clinic. (Accessed 10/6/09)http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/nail-biting/AN01144
- Mayo Clinic. "Common Warts." (Accessed 10/7/09) http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/common-warts/DS00370/DSECTION=treatments-and-drugs
- Mayo Clinic. "Nails: How to keep your fingernails healthy and strong." (Accessed 10/6/09)http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/nails/WO00020
- Mayo Clinic. "Ingrown Toenails." (Accessed 10/7/09)http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/ingrown-toenails/DS00111
- MedlinePlus. "Paronychia." (Accessed 10/6/09) http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/001444.htm
- Stedman's Medical Dictionary, 27th Edition, 2000. Lippincott, Williams & Wilkins.
- WebMD. "Home treatment for a hangnail." (Accessed 10/7/09)http://www.webmd.com/hw-popup/home-treatment-for-a-hangnail?navbar=hw257352
- WebMD. "Paronychia (Nail Infection)." (Accessed 10/7/09)http://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/paronychia-nail-infection