What Is an Ingrown Toenail?
Whena toenail is ingrown, it is curved and grows into the skin, usually atthe nail borders (the sides of the nail). This “digging in” of the nailirritates the skin, often creating pain, redness, swelling, and warmthin the toe.
If an ingrown nail causes a break in the skin, bacteria may enterand cause an infection in the area, which is often marked by drainageand a foul odor. However, even if the toe isn’t painful, red, swollen,or warm, a nail that curves downward into the skin can progress to aninfection.
Causes of ingrown toenails include:
- Heredity. In many people, the tendency for ingrown toenails is inherited.
- Trauma. Sometimes an ingrown toenail is the result oftrauma, such as stubbing your toe, having an object fall on your toe,or engaging in activities that involve repeated pressure on the toes,such as kicking or running.
- Improper trimming. The most common cause of ingrown toenailsis cutting your nails too short. This encourages the skin next to thenail to fold over the nail.
- Improperly sized footwear. Ingrown toenails can result from wearing socks and shoes that are tight or short.
- Nail Conditions. Ingrown toenails can be caused by nail problems, such as fungal infections or losing a nail due to trauma.
Sometimesinitial treatment for ingrown toenails can be safely performed at home.However, home treatment is strongly discouraged if an infection issuspected, or for those who have medical conditions that put feet athigh risk, such as diabetes, nerve damage in the foot, or poorcirculation.
If you don’t have an infection or any ofthe above medical conditions, you can soak your foot inroom-temperature water (adding Epsom’s salt may be recommended by yourdoctor), and gently massage the side of the nail fold to help reducethe inflammation.
Avoid attempting “bathroom surgery.” Repeated cutting of the nailcan cause the condition to worsen over time. If your symptoms fail toimprove, it’s time to see a foot and ankle surgeon.
After examining the toe, the footand ankle surgeon will select the treatment best suited for you. If aninfection is present, an oral antibiotic may be prescribed.
Sometimes a minor surgical procedure, often performed in the office,will ease the pain and remove the offending nail. After applying alocal anesthetic, the doctor removes part of the nail’s side border.Some nails may become ingrown again, requiring removal of the nail root.
Following the nail procedure, a light bandage will be applied. Mostpeople experience very little pain after surgery and may resume normalactivity the next day. If your surgeon has prescribed an oralantibiotic, be sure to take all the medication, even if your symptomshave improved.
Preventing Ingrown Toenails
Many cases of ingrown toenails may be prevented by:
- Proper trimming. Cut toenails in a fairly straight line, anddon’t cut them too short. You should be able to get your fingernailunder the sides and end of the nail.
- Well-fitted shoes and socks. Don’t wear shoes that are shortor tight in the toe area. Avoid shoes that are loose, because they toocause pressure on the toes, especially when running or walking briskly.
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