An ingrown toenail is a common condition that usually affects your big toe. It occurs when the side of the nail curls down and grows into the skin around the nail. It can cause pain and discomfort, and become infected. An ingrown toenail may also happen if you wear shoes that are too tight or too short.
You can treat ingrown toenails at home. However, they can cause complications that might require medical treatment. Your risk of complications is higher if you have diabetes or other conditions that cause poor circulation. In such cases you may need to see a doctor or podiatrist.
What causes ingrown toenails?
Ingrown nails may develop for many reasons. Some cases are congenital—the nail is just too large for the toe. Trauma, such as stubbing the toe or having the toe stepped on, may also cause an ingrown nail. However, the most common cause is tight shoe wear or improper grooming and trimming of the nail. Besides, other causes include:
- pick or tear the corners of your toenails
- have sweaty feet, making your skin soft and easier for toenails to dig in
- have toenails with naturally curved edges or that are fan-shaped.
Who is likely to have an ingrown toenail?
An ingrown toenail can affect anyone. Those who are at higher risk include adolescents and also people who have:
- Severe nerve damage in their leg or foot
- Poor blood circulation
- An infection around the nail.
What are the signs and symptoms of an ingrown toenail?
When you first have an ingrown toenail, it may be hard, swollen and tender. Later, redness, pain and swelling at the corner of the nail may result and infection may soon follow. Sometimes a small amount of pus can be seen draining from the area. Treat your ingrown toenail as soon as possible to avoid worsening symptoms.
Ingrown toenail treatments
Sometimes initial treatment for ingrown toenails can be safely performed at home. However, home treatment is not advisable if an infection occurs. Also, those who have medical conditions that put feet at high risk, such as diabetes, nerve damage in the foot or poor circulation should seek medical help.
Otherwise, soak your feet in warm water for 15 to 20 minutes. Do this three or four times a day. However, at other times, keep your shoes and feet dry. Consider wearing open-toed shoes or sandals until your toe feels better. After soaking, use a cotton bud to gently push away the skin from the nail. Repeat each day for a few weeks, allowing the nail to grow.
Moreover, as the end of the nail grows forward, push a tiny piece of cotton wool or dental floss under it. This is to help the nail grow over the skin and not grow into it. Change the cotton wool or dental floss each time you soak your foot.
Additionally, you can take over-the-counter medicines, such as ibuprofen for the pain. You can also apply a topical antibiotic, such as a steroid cream, to prevent infection.
But, if that doesn’t work and your ingrown toenail persists, see your doctor or podiatrist. They may recommend ingrown toenail surgery to remove part or all of the nail.
Surgery is effective in eliminating the nail edge from growing inward. It also prevents the nail cutting into the fleshy folds as the toenail grows forward. Permanent removal of the nail may be advised for children with chronic, recurrent infected ingrown toenails.
If excessive inflammation, swelling, pain and discharge are present, infection probably occurs. You may need to take oral antibiotics. The nail may need to be partially or completely removed. Your doctor can surgically remove a portion of the nail, a portion of the underlying nail bed, some of the adjacent soft tissues and even a part of the growth center.
Preventing ingrown toenails
The best way to prevent ingrown toenails is to protect the feet from trauma. Also wear shoes and socks with adequate room for the toes. Furthermore, soak the nail in warm water before cutting. The nails should be cut straight across with a clean, sharp nail trimmer. Avoid tapering or rounding the corners. Trim the nails no shorter than the edge of the toe. Keep the feet clean and dry at all times. Finally, do not tear the nails.