magnifying glass over ingrown toenailWhen the top edge of the toenail grows into the skin beside it, an ingrown toenail occurs. This painful condition, also known as onychocryptosis, can become infected and lead to further complications, especially for those with diabetes. Ingrown toenails can happen if the nail is cut incorrectly or if you wear shoes that are tight around the toe area. There are also other risks for developing this condition. Consult with a podiatrist if at-home treatments are not effective to discuss treatment options for getting rid of the infection and pain.

What an Ingrown Toenail Looks Like

An ingrown toenail can happen on any toe, but the big toe is the most common. Most ingrown toenails are easy to identify and have the following symptoms:

  • Pain in the toe and around the sides of the nail
  • Swelling around the toe
  • Redness near the toenail
  • Pus draining from the skin beside the nail
  • Infection around the toenail with redness and warmth

Common Causes of Ingrown Toenails

People of all ages can get an ingrown toenail. Those most at risk are older adults or those with toenails that are thick or curved. There are numerous causes for ingrown toenails. Some of the most common include:

  • Wearing shoes that are too tight and put pressure on the toes
  • Cutting the toenails too short and not straight across
  • Toenails that are too long
  • Injuring or stubbing the toe
  • Repetitive stress to the toe from physical activities such as kicking a soccer ball, running, or ballet
  • Having a fungal toenail infection
  • Having a family member with the condition since genetics can be a risk factor

How to Prevent Ingrown Toenails

There are several ways to prevent ingrown toenails. These include:

  • Wearing shoes with plenty of room in the toes and ones with a lower heel
  • Wearing clean socks that are moisture-wicking
  • Keeping your feet clean and dry
  • Cutting your toenails straight across and never rounding the corners of the nails
  • Not cutting your toenails too short

For those with a condition such as diabetes, consult with a podiatrist regarding cutting your toenails. Diabetes can cause a loss of sensation in the toes, and it can be easy to cut yourself without being aware. Many podiatry offices offer toenail trims.

At-Home Treatment Options

Some ingrown toenails can resolve themselves if you wait for them to grow out. If your ingrown toenail is causing you pain and you want to treat it at home, try the following for relief:

  • Warm water soak. Soak the infected toe in warm water for 15 minutes a day. You can repeat this two to three times each day.
  • Cotton wedge. Place a small piece of wet cotton from a cotton ball or cotton pad under the corner of the infected toenail to lift the nail off of the skin. Change the cotton daily until the nail grows out.
  • Bandage. You can apply an over-the-counter ointment and a bandage over the ingrown toenail to keep it clean and protected.
  • Shoes. Wear comfortable shoes with extra room in the toes or sandals while your toenail is healing.
  • Medication. To ease the pain from an ingrown toenail, use over-the-counter pain medication such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen.

When treating an ingrown toenail at home, you should never dig under the nail with a sharp object. This can result in an infection. You should also never attempt to drain the pus yourself using a needle or other object, or you could worsen the infection.

When it Is Time to Call a Podiatrist

If your ingrown toenail does not heal from treatment at home or is worsening, it is time to consult with a knowledgeable podiatrist. Other signs that you need to seek medical attention are seeing pus or redness along the edge of the toenail. This can indicate an infection. If an ingrown toenail is left untreated, complications can occur. Severe problems such as a bone infection, ulcer, or gangrene can happen if an ingrown toenail is left untreated and becomes infected.

A podiatrist will examine your feet and toenails. The toe where the nail is ingrown will be evaluated, and treatment will be recommended based on the severity and cause of the condition. Some treatment options that a podiatrist may recommend are:

  • Medication. Medication such as an antibiotic may be prescribed to help clear up the infection. If the cause of the ingrown toenail is a toenail fungus, antifungal medication may be prescribed.
  • Splint. A small splint may be used to lift the ingrown toenail in order to relieve pressure. This can be removed and reapplied as needed.
  • Toe brace. A toe brace can be placed over the toenail to help reduce pain and pressure.
  • Surgery. Surgery is recommended for those with conditions such as diabetes or for those with recurring ingrown toenails. There are surgical options such as partial or full removal of the toenail that is infected. Both procedures involve numbing the toe with local anesthesia to minimize pain then separating the nail from the nail bed to remove all or part of the nail. After this is complete, the cells underneath will be destroyed to prevent regrowth and future reoccurrence of the infected nail.

If you opt for surgery as a treatment for your ingrown toenail, your podiatrist will give you instructions to follow for your aftercare. You should be able to resume normal activities after a few days.  You may need to follow up with your podiatrist to check that the toenail is healing.

We Can Fix Ingrown Toenails!

Once you've had an ingrown toenail, you are likely to keep getting them. Don't put off finding a permanent solution to what can become a chronic, painful condition. Call Hermiston Family Foot Clinic at 541-567-8750 or fill out our online contact form to make an appointment with our podiatrist today. We are ready to help!