What happens when your fingernails come off?
November 28, 2005 6:45 AM   Subscribe

My Thumbnail fell off last night....

Weeks and weeks ago, I slammed my thumb - hard - in a car door (hard enough to rupture it, with lots of blood). Last night, the nail finally came off (mostly - there is still a sliver of healthy nail running along the right-hand side of the nailbed). I can also see a small crescent of new, healthy nail coming in at the base of the nailbed.

However, the nailbed itself is very hard, and lumpy (still deformed from where the door hit it, I guess ... this is a surprise - we had expected the lump in the nail to have been mostly from dried blood). My boyfriend says that there is a chance the new nail won't actually attach to the nailbed, and will always be loose or somehow "weird" - is this true? Is there something I should be doing to my thumb to help things along? Is there always going to be lump there from where the door hit it? Do I need to keep it covered?

As you can see, I'm new to this. All advice needed.
posted by anastasiav to Health & Fitness (18 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Go see a doctor.
posted by furtive at 6:52 AM on November 28, 2005

Same thing happened to me from a car door. Mine took a year to come back but that was because I kept picking at the healthy part as it grew in; if this is a problem for you as well, keep it covered.

What you may find as it grows back is that the nail can have splits either under your skin, or, more likely, where it meets the remaining nail you have on the right side. These splits can go quite deep and lead the nail to grow back in little spurs you'll have to trim until the parts reattach. But once they do it should stick to the nail bed fine. The only way you can tell mine ever fell out is that it's a little flatter now.
posted by calculon at 6:53 AM on November 28, 2005

I had a similar incident with my big toe about twenty years ago, and that nail still isn't right; it has little longitudinal grooves in it. It is not really noticeable, though and wouldn't bother me even if it was on my thumb. Other than the standard advice of keeping the area clean and dry, there is probably little you can do at this point. How things turn out depends on how much you damaged the root of the nail, which begins just below the cuticle and ends as that pale crescent at the base of the nail. This is where the nail is actually formed and over a few months the new nail will grow out from there. You may even notice a thin covering of nail material in that area already. It is not unusual to have nails surgically removed for chronic infections, and they grow back just fine, but that is done a little more carefully than the slam in a car door method. There is a pretty good article on nail injuries in general here.
posted by TedW at 7:01 AM on November 28, 2005

It'll grow back and be normal, eventually. It'll take a long time though (a year for my big toe, and I wasn't picking at it). I don't think you need any special precautions if it doesn't hurt...
posted by jellicle at 7:41 AM on November 28, 2005

I've done the same to both my big toes twice and they grew back in about a year's time. Both times it was from sporting activity when my toe nails were too long, skiing once and ultimate frisbee the second time. I did go to the doctor the first time and he basically said, don't worry, they always grow back.
posted by octothorpe at 8:00 AM on November 28, 2005

I've had this happen twice; once with my left index finger, the other with one of my toes. Both times after the nail fell off the exposed nail bed had been raised, lumpy, and hard. I think this is normal, sort of the body's way of protecting the very sensitive skin of the nail bed. The new nail doesn't grow over this lumpy-hard exposed skin, it sort of grows in and replaces it. (If that makes any sense at all.)
It takes a long time, and I don't think that there's anything that you can do to speed the process. Maybe one of those nail-growth products, but I've never tried them. I wouldn't bother covering it at all. With both my finger and my toe I did very little. Keep the old nail piece well trimmed, and make sure the new nail seems to be growing in okay. The new nail may have a ridge or a ripple, like TedW mentions, but both of mine grew back perfectly normal.

Obviously it wouldn't hurt to consult a doctor though.
posted by sarahmelah at 8:03 AM on November 28, 2005

Go see a doctor

FYI, I did see a doctor when I first did it (we thought I'd broken the thumb), and he confirmed it wasn't broken and basically said "you're going to loose the nail, though" and sent me on my way.
posted by anastasiav at 8:13 AM on November 28, 2005

My brother had an accident with a piece of industrial machinery that squashed the tip of one of his fingers, and caused him to lose the nail. This eventually grew back looking obviously deformed - it's much thicker, rougher and heavier than the other nails, and is a slightly yellow, opaque colour. His accident was nearly 15 years ago, and the nail still looks the same today, so it doesn't seem to have just been a temporary problem. Can't be of much more help I'm afraid, but I can at least verify that part of your boyfriend's claim.
posted by bifter at 8:40 AM on November 28, 2005

Yup, same exact thing happened to me years ago. I wouldn't say the nail is "loose" now, but it's true that it doesn't attach to the skin on the sides the way my other nails do. This results in a bit more of a curve to the white part on top. I guess it's slightly odd, but nothing you'd look twice at. It's not lumpy, although the skin around it is a bit thick from scar tissue. Are there creams and such that can be used to deter formation of scar tissue? That might be something you'd want to look into. I don't think you need to keep it covered, unless the skin is really tender and you don't like touching it to things.
posted by keatsandyeats at 8:40 AM on November 28, 2005

Yeah it might grow in weird the first time...but as you trim it and the nail continues to grow it will get better. Mine was weird where the new nail grew off the remains of the old nail but within 6 months of grow and trim it was back to normal.
posted by UMDirector at 8:49 AM on November 28, 2005

I've lost many fingernails on summer jobs as a clumsy rough carpenter. What you describe sounds like normal healing to me. That little crescent will eventually grow into your new nail. Just take care of the much thinner covering in advance of the crescent.
posted by bonehead at 8:53 AM on November 28, 2005

I stubbed the hell out of my big toe once as a kid. It eventualy got back to normal.
posted by delmoi at 9:17 AM on November 28, 2005

I smashed my middle finger in a van door when I was a kid and it still grows flat on one side. Other than that it looks normal. I just can't let it get to long.
posted by nimsey lou at 10:01 AM on November 28, 2005

The only thing I'd be concerned about is the sliver that's still there. You might want to have a doctor remove that part so that the whole thing grows in correctly.

I say this because I lost part of my big toe as a kid and it grew back incorrectly and now I'm left with an ingrown nail.

Sorry to be graphic.
posted by captainscared at 11:13 AM on November 28, 2005

Just to throw this in here...I split my index finger's nail in half while doing some construction. To speed up the process of growth I ate lots of jello and drank milk.

It seemed to work.
posted by freudianslipper at 11:19 AM on November 28, 2005

I lost two nails (ring and pinky finger) about 15 years ago and the nails were never the same. Nor have I ever been able to control my urge to pick at them as they grew back. (I am a nail biter). So they are shorter than my other nails too.
posted by jockc at 1:03 PM on November 28, 2005

When my left middle finger went into a table saw, the nail bed had to be surgically reattached. The nail came off after a week or so, and the whole nail was back within 8 months. While it was gone, the nail bed looked much as you described (plus some extra marks from the stitches).

It got smashed in a door this June, but didn't quite come off (the sides stayed attached). The damage has grown out now.
posted by notbuddha at 2:50 PM on November 28, 2005

When I had a nail fall off a friend told me to start taking Pre-Natal Vitamins. They make your nails and hair grow very fast. My big toe nail was back within 3 months. I am unsure if it would help any males with the same problem.
posted by phytage at 5:41 PM on November 28, 2005

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