Perhaps the most common foot injury or impairment, an ingrown toenail is a condition in which the corners or sides of the nail curl under and dig into the surrounding soft tissue, causing pain, redness, and sometimes infection. Ideally, toenails grow straight outwards, but due to a number of different factors including footwear choice and heredity, the ends can be forced downwards into the sensitive tissue. The big toe is most commonly affected.
The following are among the most common causes for ingrown toenails:
- Toenails trimmed at an angle at the corners, giving the nail nowhere to grow
- Predisposition due to heredity
- Pressure and toe-crowding due to incorrectly fitting footwear
- Repeated impact or trauma to the foot during everyday activities
Ingrown toenails are characterized by the following symptoms:
- Pain and tenderness at the affected area
- Redness and swelling
- Presence of pus or other drainage
- Foul odor
- Prominent skin tissue
If you notice the formation of an ingrown nail, an appropriate first step is to soak the affected foot in a bath of warm salt water before applying an antiseptic and bandage. In the event that you have diabetes, peripheral vascular disease, or any other circulatory disorder, you should seek medical attention from a podiatrist as soon as possible.
Avoid other store-bought or DIY treatments that would have you attempt to remove any of the affected nail material on your own. Anything more than a mild ingrown nail should be evaluated by a podiatrist, who will then create a treatment plan that best suits your needs.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Depending on the severity of any present infection, a podiatrist will remove the ingrown portion of the toenail, and may prescribe an oral or topical medication to treat the infection. If you have recurring ingrown toenails due to heredity, a podiatrist can perform a procedure which prevents the toenail from growing down into the soft tissue of the toe. The corner of the nail which curls under, along with the underlying matrix, are removed through chemical, laser, or other means.
The best way to prevent the occurrence of ingrown nails in the future is to do the following:
- Trim toenails straight across, and do not dig down into the corners. Gently round off the corners of the nail with a file; always use toenail clippers
- Avoid footwear which bunches your toes together or causes other discomfort
- Do not rip or tear the edges of your toenails