Ingrown toenails are a very common problem that can afflict the very young, the very old, and everyone in between. In this irritating and often painful condition, the edge or corner of a toenail (often of the largest toe) grows into the soft surrounding flesh, rather than above it and outward. Fortunately, while ingrown toenails can be quite distressing, they are also treatable and fixable.
Symptoms and Complications
The primary symptoms of an ingrown toenail are pain, tenderness, redness, and swelling of the toe at the point where the edge or corner of the nail digs into the flesh. Discomfort may be moderate to severe depending on severity.
A number of complications can arise from an ingrown toenail which is not properly addressed, especially if you have diabetes or any other condition which compromises blood flow or autoimmune response. Ingrown nails can present an opening for keratin-eating dermatophytes, leading to an embarrassing and hardy fungal toenail infection.
More seriously, ingrown nails which become infected can spread, affecting surrounding tissues and even the bone. Serious infections may require surgery or even amputation to eliminate or control. Signs of infection may include pus or drainage from the area.
Causes and Prevention
There is not always an obvious cause for your ingrown toenail. Sometimes it simply comes down to a question of genetics—people with particularly curved nails may be more likely the develop the problem than others. However, wearing shoes that are too tight in the front portion, as well as cutting your toenails in a curved pattern, can increase your risk. Injury (such as a stubbed toe) could also be to blame.
To protect yourself, always wear comfortable, protective shoes that don’t pinch the toes, and always trim nails straight across—corner to corner—while retaining a little bit of length. If you have diabetes, you should also be checking your feet thoroughly at least once a day to identify any trouble spots before they have a chance to get worse.
Home Care Strategies
If you detect the ingrown toenail early, your case is mild, and you have no potentially complicating conditions (such as diabetes), you may be able to manage the problem using home care methods.
You’ll need to soak your feet in warm water for about 15-20 minutes at a time, 3-4 times per day to help soothe the swelling, drying thoroughly between soaks. You should also apply antibiotic ointment on the affected area. Finally, gently lifting the nail and temporarily placing a piece of waxy dental floss underneath can help encourage the nail to grow above the skin. This should be changed at least daily.
However, if your toe is causing you significant pain, you notice any signs of infection, or if 2-3 days of home care has not lead to any improvement, we definitely recommend seeing us at our office.
Professional Treatment is Simple, Safe, and Effective
The good news is that you don’t have to sit and suffer indefinitely. Ingrown toenails can be fixed through a quick, simple, relatively painless minor surgical procedure that can produce relief almost immediately.
We’ll apply a local anesthetic to numb the toe, carefully remove the offending corner or edge of the toe, then bandage you up. The procedure usually lasts 30-45 minutes, and you can go home afterward. Antibiotics will be prescribed if necessary, and while full healing might take a few weeks, most people are back on their feet and engaging in regular activity within a day or two.
If you find ingrown toenails are a recurring problem, or you simply can’t stand the thought of ever getting one again, we can also permanently correct the problem by destroying a portion of the nail matrix along the problem edge of the nail. This means that new nail will never grow back along that edge.
Need a painful ingrown toenail fixed? Associates in Podiatry stands ready to provide expert, compassionate, and effective care. Call (609) 924-8333 to set an appointment at our Princeton, NJ office, or dial (908) 687-5757 for Roselle Park.