What are Ingrown Toenails?
An ingrown toenail is a very common nail impairment. It occurs when the corners or sides of the nails dig painfully into the soft tissue of nail grooves, often leading to irritation, redness and swelling. Usually, toenails grow straight out; sometimes, however, one or both corners or sides of toenails curve and grow into the flesh. The big toe is the most common location for ingrown toenails, but other toes as well can also become affected with this condition.
What are the Causes of Ingrown Toenails?
Ingrown toenails are caused by a variety of conditions. They include:
- Improperly trimmed nails, toenails that are trimmed too short, or if the edges of toenails are rounded rather than cut straight across. This may cause the nail to curl downward and grow into the skin.
- Heredity: Some people are born with toenails that are curved and grow downward, leading to ingrown toenails.
- Shoe pressure and the crowding of toes into shoes; this pressure is caused by shoes that are too tight. If you walk often or participate in any sort of athletic activity, a shoe that is even a little tight- or even too loose - can cause this problem.
- Repeated trauma to the feet from normal activities that you participate in regularly.
- Deformities of the feet or toes, which can place extra pressure on the toe, leading to ingrown toenails.
- Poor eyesight, the inability to reach the toes easily, or having thick nails can make it hard to properly trim the toenails.
- Picking or tearing at the corners of the nails, leading to an ingrown toenail.
- Injuries such as stubbing your toe, leading to an ingrown toenail.
What are Some of the Symptoms of Ingrown Toenails?
There are a number of symptoms of ingrown toenails that you may notice. These symptoms include:
- Pain in a nail.
- Redness and swelling in a nail.
- Drainage coming from your nail.
- An odor in a nail.
- Prominent skin tissue (called “proud flesh”).
Home Treatment for Ingrown Toenails
If you have diabetes, any nerve damage in your leg or foot, poor blood circulation, excessive redness or drainage around your toenail or an infection around your nail, you should make an appointment to see your doctor right away and not try to treat an ingrown toenail with any sort of homecare. A podiatrist can diagnose the ailment and prescribe medication or another appropriate treatment for your problem.
Otherwise, you can treat an ingrown toenail at home by doing the following:
- Immersing your foot in a warm salt water soak or a basin of soapy water, then applying an antiseptic and bandaging the area. Do this 3-4 times a day if possible. After soaking, keep the toe dry.
- Gently massaging the inflamed skin.
- Placing a small piece of cotton or dental floss under the ingrown toenail. Wet the cotton with water or an antiseptic.
Treatment by a Podiatrist
If you need to see a podiatrist for an ingrown toenail, he or she will remove the ingrown portion of the nail and may or may not prescribe a topical or oral medication to treat the infection. If ingrown toenails are an ongoing problem, your podiatrist can use a chemical, a laser or another method to permanently prevent ingrown nails from coming back.
Prevention of Ingrown Toenails
There are steps you can take to prevent ingrown toenails. These include:
- Wearing shoes that fit properly. They should have plenty of room around the toes. Shoes that you wear for walking briskly or for running should have plenty of room, but not be too loose.
- When trimming your toenails, briefly soaking your foot in warm water to soften the nail; using a clean, sharp nail trimmer; trimming toenails straight across the top, and not tapering or rounding the corners or trimming them too short.
- Not picking or tearing at the nails.
- Keeping your feet clean and dry.