Up in Flames: The Safety of Electrocautery Trephination of Subungual Hematomas with Acrylic Nails

West J Emerg Med. 2022 Feb 23;23(2):183-185. doi: 10.5811/westjem.2021.10.53567.


Introduction: Subungual hematomas are fingertip injuries, generally secondary to blunt trauma, that cause pain due to an accumulation of blood under the fingernail. It is generally considered standard of practice to relieve this accumulation by means of trephination with a hollow tip needle, a heated paper clip, or electrocautery. It has been assumed that due to the flammable properties of acrylic, trephination via electrocautery has the potential to ignite acrylic nails and cause burns and other potentially serious injury, making electrocautery contraindicated in patients with acrylic nails. Our thorough literature review failed to support or refute this assumption; so in the interest of ensuring that this practice is evidence-based, we sought to explore this topic.

Methods: In this study we used electrocautery trephination on acrylic nail products attached to simulated digits and recorded the presence and frequency of ignition events. We hypothesized that ignition would occur with sufficient frequency to support continuing the practice of avoiding electrocautery trephination in subungual hematomas with overlying acrylic nails.

Results: In our study, we exposed 200 acrylic nails to trephination with electrocautery, and 83 nails ignited (41.5%).

Conclusion: While other variables exist, these findings do support the current practice pattern of avoiding trephination with electrocautery in those patients with acrylic nails overlying subungual hematomas.

MeSH terms

  • Electrocoagulation / adverse effects
  • Hematoma / etiology
  • Hematoma / surgery
  • Humans
  • Nail Diseases* / complications
  • Nail Diseases* / surgery
  • Nails* / injuries
  • Nails* / surgery
  • Trephining / adverse effects