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Subungual foreign bodies are often difficult to treat. Foreign bodies such as wood or metal splinters, pencil lead, thorns, spines, or hair may become lodged beneath the fingernail.1–3 Tradesmen such as carpenters, landscapers, auto mechanics, and individuals who work without hand protection with materials that produce small splinters are at risk for this type of injury. Subungual foreign bodies may also present less commonly under the toenails.

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Patients generally present for medical intervention complaining of pain after unsuccessfully attempting to remove the foreign body. Prior removal attempts often result in breakage of the foreign body or pushing it further beneath the nail; both of which complicate the next extraction attempt. Left untreated, retained subungual foreign bodies will often become infected or cause tissue reactions and granuloma formation. These injuries may be treated rapidly with complete removal of the foreign body and without causing additional patient discomfort.

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The distal fingertip and nail apparatus are complex structures (Figure 86-1). The perionychium is composed of the nail bed and the surrounding soft tissue. The hyponychium is the junction of the nail bed at the sterile matrix and the fingertip skin beneath the distal margin of the nail plate. The eponychium is the distal portion of the nail fold where it attaches to the proximal surface of the nail plate. The lunule is the white arc seen on the proximal portion of the nail plate. The nail bed consists of the germinal matrix on the proximal ventral floor of the nail fold and the sterile matrix that extends from the lunule to the hyponychium. The germinal matrix is primarily responsible for the growth of the nail. The subungual space is the area immediately beneath the nail plate.

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Figure 86-1
Graphic Jump Location

The anatomy of the distal fingertip and nail bed. A. Surface anatomy. B. Midsagittal view.

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Foreign bodies may enter the subungual space at the distal fingertip beneath the nail, or may penetrate the nail plate directly (Figure 86-2). In either event, separation of the nail from the nail bed results in severe pain. Patients generally immediately attempt to remove the foreign body because of this intense pain. Infection or foreign body reaction is likely to ensue if the foreign body is not removed in its entirety.

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Figure 86-2
Graphic Jump Location

Subungual foreign bodies can enter from under the distal nail plate or through the nail plate.

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Subungual foreign bodies should be removed to prevent the complications of infection, foreign body reaction, and possible nail deformity. Deeply embedded foreign bodies, splintered foreign bodies, those that traverse the nail plate, or contaminated foreign bodies may require the removal of the nail plate to extract the foreign body. Refer to Chapter 87 regarding the details of removing the ...

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