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Torn or separated toenails are not uncommon injuries; they can happen by way of something as simple as stubbing your toe around the house or hurting your foot while playing sports. A loose toenail can also be the result of a fungal infection. Whatever the cause, common symptoms of a loose toenail include swelling, discoloration, pus or blood collecting under the nail, and pain (of course). If your toenail is about to come off, you need to take a good assessment of its condition so that you’ll know how to respond. Below are some practical steps you can take to treat a torn or separated toenail.

  1. Treat the bleeding first. This can usually be done by applying light pressure around the toe (not directly on the toenail) with a cloth. Try to keep your foot elevated during the process as well. It may take anywhere between 10 minutes to half an hour for the bleeding to stop completely, so don’t be worried if you have to wait a little while.
  2. Clean the wound as best as possible. Use a warm washcloth to gently wipe away the blood around the toenail. You will also need to disinfect the wound, but it’s better to use something like Betadine instead of hydrogen peroxide or isopropyl alcohol to do it. Not only will it be far less painful, but you will run less risk of possibly burning or damaging the underlying tissue. Once you have disinfected the wound, dab it dry and apply an antibiotic ointment (e.g., Neosporin) to the area.
  3. Don’t yank it off if it’s not ready. If the nail is “dangling by a thread”, so to speak, it’s fairly safe to go ahead and gently remove it with toenail clippers, but if you have any doubts, it’s better to err on the side of caution and leave it on. Many times the nail will fall off all on its own to prepare for the healing process. The nail will grow back naturally in about 3 to 6 months. In the meantime, keep the affected area as clean as possible, regularly apply your ointment, and wrap it with gauze and medical tape.
  4. Monitor the wound for signs of infection. Check on it regularly for any discolored pus or abnormal swelling (a small amount of swelling is normal). If you suspect that it might be infected, get it checked out at a clinic or hospital just to be on the safe side.