Ingrown toenails occur when the edges or corners of your nails grow into the skin next to the nail. Your big toe is most likely to be affected by an ingrown toenail.
You can treat ingrown toenails at home. However, they can cause complications that may require medical treatment. Your risk for complications is higher if you have diabetes or other conditions that cause poor circulation.
What causes ingrown toenails?
Ingrown toenails occur in both men and women. According to National Health Services (NHS), ingrown toenails may be more common in people with sweaty feet, such as teenagers. Older people may also be at higher risk because toenails get thicker with age.
Many things can cause an ingrown toenail, including:
Incorrect cutting of toenails (cut straight, as angling the sides of the nail can encourage the nail to grow into the skin).
Irregular, curved toenails Shoes that put a lot of pressure on your big toes, such as socks and stockings that are too tight or shoes that are too narrow or flat for your feetInjuries to your toenail, such as stubbing your toe, dropping something heavy on your foot, or repeatedly kicking a ball Poor posture Improper foot hygiene, such as not keeping your feet clean or dry Genetic predisposition.
If you put a lot of stress on your feet during sporting activities, you may be particularly susceptible to ingrown toenails. Activities that involve repeatedly kicking an object or putting pressure on your feet for long periods of time can damage toenails and increase your risk for ingrown toenails. These activities include:
Ballet, football, kickboxing, soccer.
What are the symptoms of ingrown toenails?
Ingrown toenails can be painful and usually get progressively worse.
Early stage symptoms
The skin next to the nail becomes tender, swollen, or hard Pain when pressure is applied to the toe Fluid collects around the toe.
If your toe becomes infected, you may experience the following symptoms:
Red, swollen skin Pain Bleeding Oozing Pus Ingrown skin around the toe.
Treat your ingrown toenail as soon as possible to avoid worsening symptoms.
What will the doctor say?
Your doctor will most likely be able to diagnose your toe with a physical exam. If your toe appears to be infected, you may need an x-ray to see how deeply the nail has grown into the skin. An x-ray may also show if your ingrown nail was caused by an injury.
Ingrown toenails that are not infected can usually be treated at home. However, if your toenail has broken the skin or there are signs of infection, you should see a doctor. Signs of infection include:
Soak your feet in warm water for about 15 to 20 minutes three to four times a day (at other times, keep your shoes and feet dry).
Push the skin away from the edge of the toenail with a cotton ball soaked in olive oil. Use over-the-counter medicines, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), for the pain.
Try home treatment for a few days to a few weeks. If the pain worsens or you find it difficult to walk or do other activities because of the nail, see your doctor.
If the toenail does not respond to home treatments or an infection occurs, you may need surgery. In case of infection, stop all home treatments and see your doctor.
There are several types of surgical treatments for ingrown toenails. Partial nail removal involves removing only the piece of the nail that is digging into your skin. Your doctor numbs your toe and then reduces the size of the toenail. According to the NHS, partial nail removal is 98 percent effective in preventing future ingrown toenails.
Partial nail removal involves cutting away the sides of the nail so that the edges are completely straight. A piece of cotton is placed under the remaining portion of the nail to prevent the ingrown toenail from reappearing. Your doctor may also treat your toe with a medication called phenol, which prevents the nail from growing back.
If your ingrown nail is caused by a thickening, your doctor will give you a local pain injection and then remove the entire nail in a procedure called a matrixectomy.
After surgery, your doctor will send you home with a toe bandage. You will likely need to elevate your foot for the next day or two and wear special footwear to allow your toe to heal properly.
Avoid as much movement as possible. Your bandage will usually be removed two days after surgery. Your doctor will advise you to wear open-toed shoes and take daily salt water baths until your toe heals. You will also be prescribed pain-relieving medication and antibiotics to prevent infection.
Your toenail will likely grow back a few months after a partial nail removal.