Ingrown toenails can be a painful and difficult problem for many people. Here Dr. Donald Carlson explains what exactly an ingrown toenail is and most importantly, what you can do about it!
Ingrown Toenails: Common Causes
There are actually several causes. Some of them include:
- Cutting your toenails “wrong”
- Toenails that are simply too wide for your toe
- Tight shoes
- Activities that jam your toes against the shoe
Number One Cause of Ingrown Toenails: Cutting your toenails “wrong”
The question is “is there a right way to cut your toenails?” The answer is yes, mostly. Most commonly we are told to cut our toenails straight across. This is indeed the safest way to do it and works as a recommendation for the general public. While this does work for most people, we all have unique shapes to our toenails. It is OK to round the corners as long as they are not buried deep in the skin. This also depends on your ability to reach your toes and see what you are doing. If you have a thickened or oddly shaped toenail either from fungus or past trauma, then this may require a new set of rules and perhaps a visit to a podiatrist.
Many people are born with toenails that are too wide for your toe. You can thank Mom or Dad for this! These can be very frustrating because they may cause problems even if you follow all the rules. In this situation, it is important to trim straight across and not dig into the corners. It’s also important to have a shoe with a wide toe box that does not put pressure on the toe. (Think Birkenstock sandal toe shape). In many cases, this may require a visit to a podiatrist for professional help.)
If you compare most shoes to most feet, they are not the same! The end of the shoe, known as the toe box is usually contoured to where it will contact or rub on your big toe and little toe. If you add in a wide toenail that is already compromised, you have a recipe for a painful ingrown toenail. Remember, the shoe doesn’t need to feel tight to be tight. Don’t necessarily focus on just getting a wide shoe (2E, 4E), but really scrutinize the shape of the toe box in comparison to your foot.
Activities that may cause ingrown nails
Activities that include running or side to side motion, such as tennis. These activities, especially coupled with an ill-fitting shoe can cause jamming of the toes and possibly an ingrown nail. When you purchase shoes, it is best to go to a store where your feet will be measured and where they have knowledgeable staff to assist you. It can often be helpful to replace the shoe insole with a high quality insole such as Powerstep or Superfeet. These will help stabilize your feet and decrease the risk of your feet sliding and jamming in the shoe.
Trauma, whether its small repetitive trauma such as the aforementioned tennis in a tight shoe, or more direct trauma such as a frozen chicken sliding out of the freezer onto your toe, is yet another cause of ingrown nails. This can cause the edge of the nail to penetrate the skin which will then cause pain and possibly infection. This is similar to having a foreign body such as a thorn, in your foot. Solving the problem often involves removing the offending object, e.g., the side of the toenail in order to solve the problem.
Ingrown Toenail Treatments
If you catch the problem soon enough you may be able to calm it down by getting the pressure off and doing foot soaks. At home, wear a slipper or sandal that does not put any pressure on the toe. Remember, some slippers and house shoes may be tight enough to cause excess pressure. An open sandal is the best option in most cases. Soak your foot in warm water with Epsom salts (follow package directions) for 20 min once or twice a day for one week. A helpful alternative soak is to use Betadine in the water, just enough to make a light brown solution. Betadine is a surgical antiseptic available at most pharmacies. After your soak, apply an over the counter antiseptic ointment such as Neosporin or its generic equivalent. Cover with a bandaid and don’t let the dog step on it!
If the toenail is just too stubborn and does not respond to home remedies, Do Not Despair! Call us and we fix you up! We specialize in a procedure that will eliminate the problem once and for all! This is an easy office procedure that we have performed thousands of times over 30 years. Join your friends and neighbors who no longer deal with ingrown nail pain. Call us today!