Ingrown toenails are common toenail ailments. They form when the corner or side of the toenail digs into the skin of the toe instead of growing straight out of the nail bed. They are more likely to occur if you wear tight shoes, have very sweaty feet, or cut your toenails incorrectly. The most common symptoms are redness, irritation, pain and swelling. This painful condition usually affects the big toe, but can occur on any toe.
Ingrown toenails are usually noticed early because they are painful. If treated in time, it is often possible to manage the inflammation on your own. Your toe will generally heal without any consequences.
When left untreated, ingrown toenails can result in serious infection. Even without the common symptoms, a nail that curves downward into the skin can progress to an infection.
Causes of an ingrown toenail
Causes of ingrown toenails include:
- Improper trimming. The most common cause of ingrown toenails is cutting your nails too short allowing the skin next to the nail to fold over the nail.
- Trauma. Sometimes an ingrown toenail is the result of trauma, such as stubbing your toe, dropping something heavy on your toe or engaging in activities that involve repeated pressure on the toes, such as kicking or running.
- Improperly sized footwear. Ingrown toenails can result from wearing shoes that are short or tight.
- Nail conditions. Ingrown toenails can be caused by nail problems, such as fungal infections or nail trauma.
- Genetics. In many people, the tendency for ingrown toenails is inherited.
What are the symptoms of an ingrown toenail?
Ingrown toenails can be painful, and they usually worsen in stages. Early-stage symptoms include:
- Skin next to the nail becoming tender, swollen or hardened
- Pain occurring when pressure is placed on the toe
- Mild pain even without pressure
If your toe becomes infected, symptoms may include:
- Red, swollen skin
- Moderate to severe pain
- Puss drainage and a foul odor.
- Overgrowth of skin around the toe
Treat your ingrown toenail as soon as possible to avoid worsening symptoms. A foot infection can be very serious, especially if you have diabetes, neuropathy, or poor blood flow. See your doctor right away if you have diabetes and are concerned about an ingrown toenail infection for a referral to our office or call our office.
Diagnosis and treatment of an ingrown toenail
Initial treatment for ingrown toenails can usually be safely performed at home. However, home treatment is strongly discouraged if an infection is suspected or for those who have medical conditions that put feet at high risk, such as diabetes, nerve damage in the foot or poor circulation.
If you do not have an infection or any of the above medical conditions, soak your foot in room-temperature water (adding Epsom salt may be recommended by your doctor) and gently massage the side of the nail fold to help reduce the inflammation. When done, place a small piece of cotton or dental floss under the nail. Wet the cotton or floss with water or antiseptic. And whatever you do, do not attempt “bathroom surgery.”
Consider wearing sandals until the problem goes away. Over-the-counter topical antibiotic, such as polymyxin and neomycin (both present in Neosporin), may prevent infection and help with the pain, but does not treat the underlying problem.
If your symptoms haven’t improved within a few days, the doctors at Augusta Foot & Ankle, PC can provide additional treatment options. Appointments are usually available within 48 hours.
After examining the toe, the foot and ankle surgeon will select the treatment best suited for you. If an infection is present, an oral antibiotic may be prescribed.
Sometimes a minor surgical procedure, usually performed in our office, will alleviate the problem. After applying a local anesthetic, our doctor will remove part of the nail’s side border. This procedure is called a partial nail avulsion.
Most people experience very little pain after surgery and may resume normal activity the next day. A light bandage will be applied to your toe. If you have been prescribed an oral antibiotic, be sure to take all the medication, even if your symptoms have improved.
If you have recurring infections from ingrown toenails, your doctor might recommend an in-office procedure to remove the ingrown portion of the nail permanently. If the ingrown nail is caused by a thickened deformed nail, the entire may need to be removed. This can be performed temporarily or permanently.
To find a permanent solution for your ingrown toenails or thickened painful nails, call Augusta Foot & Ankle to schedule an appointment today.