What Are Ingrown Toenails?
Ingrown toenails occur when the edges or
corners of the nail grow into the skin next to the nail. Your big toe is most
likely to get an ingrown toenail.
For the most part, you can treat ingrown
toenails at home. However, they can sometimes cause complications that might make
medical treatment necessary. You are at higher risk of such complications if
you have diabetes or other conditions that cause poor circulation.
What Causes Ingrown Toenails?
Anyone can get an ingrown toenail. They occur
in both men and women.
According to National
Health Services (NHS) of the United Kingdom, ingrown
toenails may be slightly more common in teenagers, who tend to have sweatier
feet. Older people may also be at higher risk, because toenails thicken with age.
Many things can cause an ingrown toenail.
Common causes include:
- cutting toenails incorrectly (the toenail should be cut straight across —angling the sides
of the nail can encourage the nail to grow into the skin)
- irregular, curved toenails
- footwear that places a lot of
pressure on the big toes (pressure
can be from shoes that are too tight, narrow, or flat for your feet; socks
and stockings that are too tight can also lead to ingrown toenails)
- toenail injury
- poor posture
- improper foot hygiene (feet aren’t kept dry and clean)
What Are the Symptoms of Ingrown Toenails?
Ingrown toenails can be very painful. They
usually get worse in stages. It is important to treat your ingrown toenail as
soon as possible.
Early-stage symptoms include:
- skin next to the nail becomes tender, swollen, or hard
- pressure on the toe is painful
- fluid builds up around toe
If your toe becomes infected, symptoms may
- red, swollen skin
- oozing pus
- overgrowth of skin around toe
How Are Ingrown Toenails Diagnosed?
Your doctor will most likely be able to
diagnose your toe with a physical exam. If your toe seems infected, you might
need an X-ray. This can show how deep the nail is. An X-ray may also be taken
- Your ingrown nail was caused by injury.
- You have a history of chronic infections.
- Your pain is severe.
What Are the Treatment Options for Ingrown Toenails?
Ingrown toenails that are not infected can
normally be treated at home. However, if the toenail has pierced the skin or
there is any sign of infection, it is a good idea to seek medical treatment.
Signs of infection include:
- redness and swelling
To treat an ingrown toenail at home, try:
- soaking feet in warm water three to four times a day
- pushing skin away from the toenail edge with a cotton ball
soaked in olive oil
- using over-the-counter medicines, like acetaminophen
(Tylenol), for the pain
- applying a topical antibiotic to prevent infection
If the toenail does not respond to home
treatments, you may need surgery.
There are several ways that surgery can be
used to treat an ingrown toenail. Partial
nail removal removes only the piece of nail that is digging into
your skin. Your toe will be numbed. Then your doctor will narrow the toenail. Partial
nail removal is 98
percent effective for preventing future ingrown
The sides will be cut away so that the edges
are completely straight. A piece of cotton will be placed under the remaining
portion of the nail to keep the ingrown toenail from reoccurring. Your doctor
may also treat your toe with a compound called phenol. This keeps the nail from
removal may be used if your ingrown nail is caused by
thickening. The doctor will give you a local pain injection and
then remove the entire nail.
Your doctor will send you home with your toe
bandaged. You will probably need to keep your foot raised for the next one to
two days. Try to avoid as much movement as possible. Your bandage is usually
removed on day two. Your doctor will advise you to wear open-toe shoes and to
do daily saltwater soaks until your toe heals. You will also be prescribed pain
relief medication and antibiotics to prevent infection.
Preventing Ingrown Toenails
Ingrown toenails can be prevented. Here are
some tips to help you avoid ingrown toenails:
- Trim your toenails straight across and make sure that the edges
do not curve in.
- Avoid cutting toenails too short.
- Wear proper fitting shoes, socks, and tights.
- Wear steel-toe boots if you work in hazardous conditions.
If your toenails are abnormally curved or
thick, surgery may be necessary to prevent ingrown nails.