- What Is
- Who Gets Bad Ingrown Toenails?
- How to Fix
- Can an Ingrown Toenail Heal By Itself
- What If It Doesn't Go Away
What is an ingrown toenail?
Do your feet hurt when you put on shoes? More specifically, do the tips and sides of your toes hurt? Well, look closely — you may have an ingrown toenail.
Ingrown toenails are very common. They occur when the side corners of a toenail grow down into your skin and pierce the soft tissue. The medical term for this is onychocryptosis. An ingrown toenail can occur anywhere, but it is most common on your big toe. If not tended to, the skin may eventually start growing over the ingrown nail.
Once the soft tissue has been pierced, bacteria can invade the area and cause infection and fungal growth. The resulting inflammation and infection can lead to other health problems.
What causes an ingrown nail?
Simple causes of ingrown nails include:
- Tight shoes
- Injuring the toenail
- Improper cutting of the nails
- Very curved toenails
There are several other ways you can get an ingrown nail. Trauma — like dropping something on your toe or stubbing it — can cause an ingrown nail. An untreated fungal infection that thickens your nails can also cause an ingrown nail. Cutting your nails too short or not straight across can lead to the growth of an ingrown nail.
Too tight shoes press onto the edges of your toes and allow ingrown nails to form. Improper hygiene can lead to small particles of debris getting caught under your nail, allowing the nail to grow down into the skin edges. Also, genetics can play a part.
Those with ingrown nails may experience:
- Redness surrounding the affected nail
- Pain in your toe along the sides of the nails
- Redness around the toenail
- Infection of the surrounding soft tissue
People of all ages can get ingrown nails, but some people are more at risk.
Who do ingrown nails affect more harshly?
People with certain medical conditions can be particularly susceptible to complications from an ingrown nail. If you have diabetes or a condition that reduces the blood flow to your feet, you are at risk for complications. The untreated ingrown nail may not heal properly, causing infection and possible ulceration. This is true of other circulatory diseases like peripheral vascular disease too.
Also, people with nerve damage can be susceptible to complications. You may not be able to feel the ingrown nail digging into your skin. You may not even notice it until it is infected or bleeding into your sock.
How do you fix an ingrown toenail?
For minor symptoms, conservative interventions can help. Soak your foot in lukewarm water with Epsom salts two or three times a day. Afterward, dry your foot. Massage the skin on each side of the nail and push it away from the nail. This will cause the nail to relax its penetration of your skin and possibly reveal enough of a gap to be pulled out.
After each soaking, place a small piece of cotton or dental floss under the ingrown toenail edge. This will help direct the nail to grow above the skin edge. This will also reduce pressure and pain.
The application of antibiotic cream will help with tenderness and keep the infection risk down. Wear sandals or low-heeled shoes that do not squeeze your toes together.
If home remedies don’t work, you should see a podiatrist — a foot doctor. They will remove part of the nail after numbing your toe with an anesthetic. This is called a partial nail avulsion.
If your ingrown nail is severe or has a paronychia (inflamed and/or infected surrounding skin), your podiatrist may remove the nail border and the affected skin. To permanently keep the nail border from growing back, the doctor may use a laser, chemical, or partial surgery and remove a portion of the nail bed.
Can an ingrown nail heal by itself?
Early on, it's possible to prevent an ingrown toe nail from worsening. If you catch it in time, you can try these strategies to encourage ingrown toe nail healing:
- Resist the temptation to cut the nail, which can make things worse
- Always keep your feet clean and dry
- Kick off your shoes whenever you can
- Soak your feet in a warm Epsom salt bath twice daily
- Apply a bandage along with an antibiotic cream to reduce the risk of infection
As an ingrown toenail progresses, it becomes much more difficult, if not impossible, for the toenail to heal on its own. That's because the nail grows into your flesh further and further. At some point you will need professional medical care to remove an ingrown toenail.
What if an ingrown toenail does not go away?
In some cases, you will not be able to stop an ingrown toenail on your own. It may not go away at all, or it may keep coming back even if you successfully stop it at first. In these cases, you will need to make an appointment to see a foot doctor (podiatrist). Your doctor can make a proper diagnosis and perform treatments that can permanently stop your ingrown toenail.
How can I prevent ingrown nails?
There are simple things you can do daily to prevent ingrown nails.
- Wear comfortable shoes with a wide toe box. This prevents squeezing of the toes and causing nails to grow curved in.
- Keep your feet clean and dry.
- Use a clipper that is for toenails, not fingernails. Cut the nails straight across going with the natural shape of the toe. Do not cut them too short.
If your nails are inflamed, in pain, and possibly infected, clean the toe and apply a bandage. If your symptoms do not improve, get to your doctor as soon as possible. This is especially true for those with diabetes, peripheral vascular disease, and nerve damage.
Health Solutions From Our Sponsors
Cedar Sinai: "Happy Feet: 5 Tips to Remedy Ingrown Toenails."
Foot & Ankle Center of South Jersey: "Can an Ingrown Toenail Heal on Its Own?"
Harvard Health Publishing: "Foot health: What to do about an ingrown toenail."
Nagy Footcare: "7 Common Misconceptions About Ingrown Toenails."
North Star Foot & Ankle Associates: "3 Ways To Easily Treat an Ingrown Toenail."
OrthoInfo: "Ingrown Toenail."
Mayo Clinic: "Ingrown toenails."
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Ingrown Toenail (Onychocryptosis)Ingrown toenails are caused by the growth of the toenail into the surrounding nail fold. Symptoms and signs include toe pain, swelling, redness, and yellow drainage. Treatment at home involves soaking the affected foot in diluted white vinegar or Epsom salts, elevating the foot, and trimming the nails straight across. Surgery is also an option for severe cases. Prevent ingrown toenails by wearing shoes with a wider toe box and avoiding repeated injury to the toenails. Avoid curving or cutting the nails short at the edges.
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