An ingrown toenail occurs when the corner or side of the nail starts to grow into the surrounding flesh. The medical term for this is onychocryptosis. Ingrown toenails are most often attributed to inherited nail structure, but there are some lifestyle factors that can increase your risk of developing this bothersome condition.
Ingrown toenails are easy to spot. You’ll first notice redness or swelling around the toenail, followed by pain and tenderness along one or both sides of the nail. If the condition is not treated promptly, there may be signs of infection such as pus or discharge coming from the nail.
In a healthy person, ingrown toenails are most likely a temporary inconvenience. However, people suffering from diabetes or a condition that causes poor blood flow to the feet are more likely to suffer from complications related to ingrown toenails that do not heal properly. In extreme cases, the infection in the toenail can spread to the underlying bone or cause a foot ulcer that leads to tissue death.
Potential Causes of Ingrown Toenails
There are several factors that can increase a person’s risk of developing ingrown toenails. For example:
- Genetics. The most common cause of ingrown toenails is an unusually curved nail structure.
- Injury. Trauma to the toe, such as what occurs when you drop something heavy on your foot or kick something solid, can lead to ingrown toenails.
- Activities. Any activity that places extra stress on your toes, such as dance, skiing, or soccer, increases the risk of an ingrown toenail.
- Poor foot care. Wearing ill-fitting shoes and not trimming your nails regularly can increase your risk of developing an ingrown toenail.
- Foot deformities. In certain cases, untreated bunions or hammertoes can create added pressure on the edge of the nail that leads to ingrown toenails.
Ingrown toenails most often occur on the big toe or the small toe. This is because these toes are less protected when a person is going about their daily routine.
Treating an Ingrown Toenail
The treatment for an ingrown toenail depends on the severity of the condition. If the nail is only slightly ingrown and there is no pus coming from the area, your podiatrist can lift the ingrown nail edge and place a splint under it to hold it in place so the nail will start to grow above the skin edge.
In more severe cases, the nail may need to be partially or totally removed. If this is necessary, your podiatrist can temporarily numb your toe by injecting it with an anesthetic and then removing the nail. If needed, the underlying tissue (nail bed) can also be removed to prevent the nail from growing back.
If the toe is infected or at risk of becoming infected, you may need topical or oral antibiotics. Use the medication exactly as prescribed.
Preventing Future Problems
Once your ingrown toenail has been treated, there are several steps you can take to prevent the condition from reoccurring. For example.
- Trim your toenails so they are even with the tops of your toes.
- Cut your nails straight across instead of trying to curve the nail to match the shape of the toe.
- Avoid wearing shoes that are too tight or pinch your toes. You should have approximately half an inch of space in the front of your shoe to give your toes the necessary wiggle room.
- Wear steel-toed boots if you are engaging in activities that put you at risk of injuring your feet.
- If you have diabetes, perform daily foot self-exams to quickly identify problems that require a podiatrist’s care.
Schedule an Appointment With Our Omaha Podiatrists
If an ingrown toenail is causing you pain, we’re here to help. Our experienced Omaha podiatrists are well-equipped to treat a range of skin and nail conditions affecting both children and adults. Complete our contact form or call our office at 402-333-8856 to schedule an appointment.