An ingrown toenail is a toenail that has begun to grow into the skin that surrounds the nail bed. While this problem is relatively straightforward and isn’t at all life threatening, it can nevertheless lead to a number of problems and can be very painful. Read on and we’ll look at what causes ingrown toenails, how you can treat them and how they can be prevented.
Numerous things can cause an ingrown toenail but in some cases they can simply be the result of congenitally curved toenails. Some of us have more curved toenails than others and if yours are particularly rounded, it will increase the likelihood that they will grow into your toe.
This problem can be exacerbated by poor cutting. If you cut too far down the toe and leave jagged edges, this can then cause the skin to fold over onto the toe and the nail may then grow into it as it gets longer.
Another common cause/risk factor is wearing shoes that are too tight in the toe box. When the toes are pressed together tightly at the bottom of the shoe, this can have the effect of pushing the nail into the surrounding skin as well and that will again increase the likelihood of an ingrown nail.
Sweaty feet are another common issue. If your feet sweat a lot, this might cause the skin around the toes to become softened and that increases the likelihood that it will change position and that the toenail will be able to penetrate it.
Finally, ingrown toenails can also be the result of a trauma such as a ‘stubbed toe’ or having your feet trodden on. This is what causes ingrown toenails most often and to avoid future occurrences you should make sure to wear well-fitting shoes, to avoid trauma to the toenails and to clip your nails carefully without travelling too far down.
Signs and Symptoms
The main symptom of an ingrown toenail is pain around the end and particularly the sides of the toe. If this pain gets worse with pressure, then that also suggests an ingrown nail. As the nail grows into the flesh, this can also cause swelling, redness, bleeding and also pus. You may also see the overgrowth of skin around the toe.
One of the biggest risks with an ingrown nail is that the constantly open wound can be susceptible to infection. This can then cause discoloration in the area, additional swelling and potentially flu-like symptoms. If you suspect an infected ingrown toenail, you should see your GP who will likely prescribe a course of antibiotics to treat the problem.
How to Fix an Ingrown Toenail
Treating an ingrown toenail is usually relatively simple at home.
The first thing to do is to clean the area carefully and to soak your foot in a warm saline solution (water mixed with salt). This will soften the skin around the toe as well as the nail and at the same time will help to kill bacteria and prevent an infected ingrown toenail.
From here, you can then try using a cotton bud to gently lift the toenail away from the toe. If there is a clear jagged edge causing the problem, then you can round this off with either a nail file or with clippers. If not, or if this is too far down, then you may consider sliding a small amount of cotton under the toe during the day to encourage the nail to grow above the skin. Take it out each night and replace each day.
If you can’t fix the toenail yourself then you may need ingrown toenail surgery. Ingrown toenail is known as toenail avulsion and will either completely or partially remove the toenail (partial toenail removal is called partial toenail avulsion).
Toenail surgery is painful and you will likely need to take a couple of days off work. During this time, try to keep the toe elevated and avoid walking on it. After a few days you should be able to return to normal and it is perfectly safe to continue without a toenail.
Ingrown toenail surgery is normally performed under local or general anesthetic and is a relatively common and routine surgery.