Ingrown toenails occur when the top edge (or edges) of the toenail curl under and irritate or dig into the skin of the toe. Most of the time, this only occurs on the big toe, but it can also occur with any of the others. In the beginning stages, the skin becomes reddened and starts to swell. As the toenail grows, it continues to curl, worsening symptoms with the addition of drainage from irritation. Without treatment, the nail can embed itself into the skin as swelling, redness and pain are at a peak. The body then begins to fight surrounding infection which may also cause fever.
Heredity does have a minor role in developing ingrown toenails in that you are more likely to develop one if a family member has ever had one. Some toenails naturally curve in at the edges, increasing the propensity to develop into ingrown toenails. These tendencies cannot be helped. However, other contributing factors are totally preventable:
- Poorly-fitted shoes
- Pressure on the (big) toe
- Poor posture
- Improper trimming
- Improper foot hygiene
- Toenail injury
- Fungal infections
- Disorders of the nail
Medical conditions can also make one prone to ingrown toenails (i.e., diabetes, poor circulation, whether you are undergoing chemotherapy or have other blood conditions that leave you susceptible to infection).
Initial symptoms are redness, pain and swelling. Later symptoms include pus, bleeding, and overgrowth/thickening of surrounding skin. Some of these things may require medical attention, even if it’s just a quick trip to the foot doctor for advice. If you experience one or any of the following, contact your podiatrist as soon as possible:
- You have a high fever without other symptoms (to indicate things like flu)
- It has been more than five years since the last tetanus booster shot
- There is no improvement within three or four days after applying a home remedy.
Ingrown toenails are one of the easiest things to treat at home if done correctly, and if done at the moment symptoms are detected. The longer you wait, the worse it will likely get. This is a condition that does not go away on its own. Proper foot care, as well as effective maintenance and good hygiene are paramount for healthy feet. To ensure the condition doesn’t worsen beyond the initial stages, here are several home remedies one can use to fix the problem before it grows into a bigger problem:
- Soak your foot in a warm salt water bath several times a day
- Keep the foot dry and clean (in between soakings)
- Take pain-relievers for pain as directed
- Administer antibiotic ointment to help avoid infection
- Apply a bandage, leaving plenty of air to flow in the affected area
- Wear comfortable shoes that fit properly and alternate shoes as often as possible
- Gently separate the surrounding skin from the toenail and keep separated as long as possible with a soft and clean piece of cotton or gauze
- Remove the curled portion of the toenail with tweezers or clippers being careful not to damage the skin.
- Cut a “V” shaped patch out of the leading edge of the toenail with clippers, which may help your nail to pull itself out.
The best method of prevention is an ongoing regimen of maintenance and grooming. Clip the nails straight across and cut the nail edge so that it is longer than the skin edge to keep the corners from turning under. Wearing shoes that are comfortable and fit properly can do wonders for the feet. Finally, keep your feet clean and dry as much as possible. If you suspect you have an ingrown toenail that requires attention, contact your podiatrist right away.
Surgical & Nonsurgical Treatments with Dr. Vikki
Once the toenail pierces the skin, any number of problems could be experienced as bacteria, moisture and dirt allowed to irritate or damage the surrounding skin. When the problem has extended beyond what you can do at home, your foot doctor will determine the right treatment for you. To help diagnose the extent of the problem, an X-ray may be necessary to see how deep the nail is. After diagnosis, one of the following treatment options may be recommended:
- A splint may be used to protect the skin from further damage
- Non surgical options may include filing, grinding or cutting the nail (or skin) back to change direction of the nail as it continues to grow
- If an abscess is present, it will most likely need to be drained
- Partially removing the nail (lateral matricectomy) is 98 percent effective for preventing future ingrown toenails
- Treatment with phenol will keep the nail from growing back
- Total removal of the nail may be necessary if thickening is the problem – this condition makes it difficult to treat because it is automatically prone to undergrowth
- The foot doctors at Superior Foot & Ankle Care Center in Long Beach, CA even provide the option of artificial toenails to rebuild a natural looking replacement
- Antibiotics are usually part of the surgical treatment to eliminate or prevent further infection.
If you have an infected ingrown toenail, or just want to make sure it goes away quickly, contact Dr. Vikki to schedule an appointment with Long Beach’s best foot doctor. No one should have to suffer through the pain and discomfort of a stubborn ingrown toenail without help.