Detached or Torn Nail, What should I do?

Detached or Torn Nail, What should I do?

You snag your nail on the car door, the bed frame, the corner of the coffee table “It can happen so quickly” or you absently chip you nail polish “Suddenly” your nail rips and your left with a torn nail, in some severe cases you can even separate a nail from your nail bed. Pain, discomfort and even blood loss can occur when you rip your nail either half way or completely off. “What should I do if my nail rips off? Should I rip the remaining torn nail off? How long doe a ripped nail take to heal?” Are some common questions we hope to address in this portion. As much as this hurts, be patient, the nail will heal if you take proper First Aid steps.

What causes a detached / torn nail?

It can be very painful to tear or rip your nail from the nail bed. A nail may separate from the nail bed “detach / rip” for many reasons including:

  • -Injuries – Separation caused by injury is common in people who have long finger or toenails. The nail may pry away from the nail bed when it is hit or jammed.
  • -Toe Stubbing – Severe or repetitive toe stubbing may cause a nail to detach. This is also common in athletes who wear shoes that do not have adequate space for motion.
  • -Fungal nail infections – When fungi invade a nail bed and the skin underneath the nail “nail bed”. Toenails are more commonly affected than fingernails, and symptoms include cracked, yellow, discolored, streaked, thickened, or spotted nails.
  • -Skin Conditions – Psoriasis
  • -Chemical Exposure – Some chemicals like “Nail Polish -Remover and even some soaps
  • -Medications – Chemotherapy or ant malarial medicines can cause nail detachment
  • Severe Illness

After a nail separates from the nail bed for any reason, it will “not” reattach. A new nail will have to grow back in its place. Nails grow back “slowly”. It may take up to 6 months for a fingernail and up to 18 months for a toenail to grow back.


  • -File any sharp edges smooth
  • -Trim nails short “within 2 millimeters” of flesh to avoid snagging “To avoid ingrown toenails leave the inset of the toenail a little longer to keep the edge from curling inwards.
  • -Clean under the nails to remove dirt and fungus
  • If your nail doesn’t look right “Color, Shape, Ridges” talk to a physician as your nail growth pattern may help in other diagnoses.

How to Treat a Detached Nail

Once a nail has been torn or detached, there is little that can be done to replace or repair it.” The main concern is damage to the adjacent tissue like nail bed, flesh and bone. If there seems to be a significant damage to areas around the nail, then a visit to a physician is recommended.

First Aid treatment often helps relieve pain, promote healing, and prevent infection. Treatment may involve removing the nail, keeping the area dry to prevent infection, and waiting for a new nail to grow. Infections and other skin conditions that can cause the separation of nail should be seen by a physician.

Nail Semi Attached

Do not Rip the remaining Nail off” The remaining parts of the old nail will help protect the tender flesh underneath as your new nail begins to grow back. Ripping the excess flesh off may cause excess bleeding and damage to the nail bed.

1) Stop Bleeding – Apply direct pressure with a clean cloth or bandage until the bleeding stops.

2) If there is remaining nail, use nail clips or scissors to trim the loose nail as close to the remaining nail bed as comfortable. The old nail will fall off one the new nail takes its place.

3) Clean the wound with clean water, soak your finger or toe in cool water for 20 minutes after trimming the nail.

4) Apply a thin layer of petroleum jelly “Vaseline” and cover the area with a non stick bandage.

To Prevent Infection

Let the wound breath so that it may heal, “Wounds that remain covered even with antibiotic ointment may become infected due to the lack of oxygen” Change your bandages often to keep it clean and let the new nail grow.

  • -Soak your foot or hand in a solution of 5 g “1 tsp” of salt dissolved in 1 L “4 Cups” warm water for 20 minutes, 2 or 3 times each day, for the next 3 days. Reapply petroleum jelly, and cover with a fresh adhesive bandage.
  • -Keep the nail bed dry, clean, and covered with petroleum jelly and an adhesive bandage until the nail bed is firm or the nail has grown back. Apply a new adhesive bandage whenever the bandage gets wet, discolored, or contaminated.

Watch for signs of infection such as increased heat, redness, pain, tenderness, swelling or pus. Remove an artificial nail if it separates from the nail bed. If you leave it on, the long, artificial nail can tear the nail bed.

When to see a Physician

“Don’t hesitate to get professional help, chances of infection and doing more long term damage can outweigh not going in to a health care professional.”

  • -If you are not comfortable with trimming the nail yourself
  • -Have diabetes, peripheral arterial disease, or an immune system problem. These problems may cause reduced blood flow and loss of feeling in the feet. Untreated nail injuries can lead to infection, foot ulcers, gang green, and other serious problems.
  • -The finger or toe is deformed, which may indicate fracture or dislocation.
  • -The wound looks deep or long enough to need stitches
  • -The nail is “completely” torn off or partially cut off from a crush injury or cut
  • -Discoloration or a bruise under the nail covers more than a quarter of the nail or there is continuing, intense pain that feels like “pressure”.

“This material is for information purposes only and is taken from The Canadian Red Cross / Alberta Heart & Stroke Foundation & Alberta Health Services. This information should not be used in place of medical, Technical advice, instructor, and/or treatment. If you have questions, speak to your local Physician or Safety Training Facility.”

Just Remember:

Protect Yourself!!! Call 911!!! Don’t Waste Time!!!

Learn First Aid Today & Save a Life Tomorrow with Saving Grace Medical Academy Ltd.

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