What Are Ingrown Toenails?
Ingrown nails, the most common nail impairment, are nails whose corners or sides dig painfully into the soft tissue of nail grooves, often leading to irritation, redness, swelling, and occasionally an infection. Usually, toenails grow straight out. Sometimes, however, one or both corners or sides curve and grow into the flesh. This change in growth pattern may be due to a multitude of reasons. Some of those reasons include the use of tight shoes, traumatic damage to the nail base, or inheritance of nail shape from your parents. The big toe is the most common location for this condition, but other toes can also become affected.
Ingrown toenails may be caused by the following:
- Improperly trimmed nails
- Shoe pressure; crowding of toes
- Repeated trauma to the feet from normal activities
The following symptoms may be present with ingrown toenails:
- Redness and swelling
- Prominent skin tissue (proud flesh)
If you suspect an infection due to an ingrown toenail, immerse the foot in a warm salt water soak, or a basin of soapy water, then apply an antiseptic and bandage the area. If no improvement noted in 2 days, discontinue treatment.
Other “do-it-yourself” treatments, including any attempt to remove any part of an infected nail or the use of over-the-counter medications, should be avoided. Nail problems should be evaluated and treated by your podiatrist, who can diagnose the ailment, and then prescribe medication or appropriate treatment.
When to Visit a Podiatrist
You should see a podiatrist immediately if any drainage or excessive redness is present around the toenail. Also, if a short trial of home treatment has not resulted in improvement of the condition, see your podiatrist. If you have diabetes or poor circulation, you should seek immediate treatment at the first signs of an ingrown toenail, as it can lead to more severe complications.
Diagnosis and Treatment
A podiatrist will remove the ingrown portion of the nail and may prescribe a topical or oral medication to treat the infection. If ingrown nails are a chronic problem, your podiatrist can perform a procedure to permanently prevent ingrown nails called a Matrixectomy. The problematic portion of the nail that ingrows, along with the matrix, or root, of that piece of nail, are removed by use of topical medications so that the offending nail border never grows back. This procedure is typically reserved for recurrent ingrown toenails in adults. Permanent matrixectomies are not typically performed in children, when there is an active infection, or as a first line treatment.
- Trim toenails properly: cut them straight across, not longer than the tip of the toes. Do not dig into corners and only gently round off corners with a nail file. Use toenail clippers.
- Avoid shoes with pointy or narrow toe boxes.
- Never rip or tear edges of nails.