Dead Nail

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A dead nail is typically caused by trauma injury to either the fingernail or the toenail. It causes the nail to have a blackened appearance. The blackened appearance is due to the bleeding that occurs under the nail. The nail itself is dead, thus when one cuts their nails, there is no pain caused. However, the follicle that produce the nail is alive, and so is the nail bed where the nail lies. Although it is not considered a medical emergency, it should be treated immediately as it poses high risks for infection. It is generally advised to seek medical attention to determine the primary issue. It is commonly called subungual hematoma.

Causes of Dead Nail

Dead nails are usually caused by trauma or injury to the nail or the affected toe. The other cases of dead nail include:

  • Fungal infection
  • Recurring trauma from athletic activities
  • Tight or poorly fitted shoes
  • Malignant melanoma (very rare condition)

Signs and Symptoms of Dead Nail

Nail discoloration is the most evident sign of a dead nail. The following are the possible signs and symptoms of a dead nail:

  • Blackened appearance of part or whole of the toe, but may also appear reddish, purplish, or brownish
  • Foul odor coming from the nail
  • In some cases, extreme pain brought about by the amount of pressure exerted on the toe
    A dead nail sometimes brings about pain to the feet
    A dead nail sometimes brings about pain to the feet
  • Discharge coming from underneath the nail
  • Signs of infection: discharge, pus, foul odor, fever and chills)


First Aid Management of Dead Nail

Although a dead nail is not generally considered a medical emergency, it is advisable to go to a general practitioner, or preferably a podiatrist, not necessarily immediately. A podiatrist is a doctor who specializes in in diagnosing and treating conditions of the foot, ankle, and associated structures of the leg. A prompt visit to the doctor may be necessary if any of the last three signs and symptoms mentioned above or signs of infection is present. In cases of a dead nail, the following can be done:

  • Soak the affected foot in warm salt water. Place Neosporin and a band aid until visit to the doctor.
  • There is usually no need to remove the dead nail. Allow the nail to fall off on its own and allow the nail bed to regrow. This occurs in most cases. However, in cases of severe trauma, the nail may never grow back.
  • Avoid picking at the nail at all costs. Do not attempt to remove the nail to avoid risks of increased bleeding and localized infection.
  • In cases of pain, take pain medications such as paracetamol, ibuprofen, and aspirin. It is important to note that aspirin should not be given to children younger than 20 years of age.

Although not considered a medical emergency, a dead nail should be treated with first aid to reduce pain, and in some cases, a doctor.

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