Your toenails have a pretty simple job: grow out and protect your toes. Aside from that, looking cute and getting painted every once in a while may seem to be their main function. So you’d think you could rely on them to do their main task correctly every time. Unfortunately, sometimes instead of growing out and forward, the corner or side of a toenail (using on your largest digit) will hook into your skin and start digging—causing ingrown toenails.
At first, your symptoms may be as simple as redness, tenderness, and toenail pain. If left unchecked, however, an ingrown nail can break the skin, inviting bacterial and fungal infections and lead to more difficult-to-deal-with complications, so you’ll want to be proactive with your care.
Causes of Ingrown Toenails
Nails can grow inward because of a number of factors. Cutting toenails too short, or not straight across, creates opportunity for nail edges to hook into soft flesh and start burrowing—especially if you’re wearing tight, pointed shoes that cram toes into a tiny space. That’s why ingrown toenails are so much more common in women than men. Other potential causes include injury or fungal infections, which can alter the shape of the nail and direct it inward.
Caring for an Ingrown Toenail at Home
Fortunately, the prognosis for ingrown toenails is usually quite good—in most cases,at-home treatment options are sufficient, with no special medical attention required. However, you’ll want to keep a watchful eye on how the condition progresses, as a stubborn ingrown nail that causes persistent pain and will not heal opens up the risk that more stubborn complications, like fungal toenail infections, will set in.
If the problem is not yet severe, a good strategy is to place bits of cotton or waxy dental floss under your toenail after a shower, bath, or brief foot soak. This gently raises the nail, encouraging it to grow outward rather than dig farther into your flesh. Using an antibiotic ointment and bandaging the affected region reduces the risk of complications and protects sensitive tissues. If the pain is very severe, we may recommend over-the-counter painkillers to help with discomfort, too.
When to Call the Doctor
If you have diabetes (or any other condition that affects circulation or sensation), you don’t want to mess around—call Family Foot and Ankle Center at the first sign of an ingrown toenail. The risk of infection is too high, and the resulting complications could ultimately result in the loss of the toe itself—or more.
For others, if pain is persistent or you notice any signs of infection, it’s time to call in the cavalry. If there is no pus and the site is not yet infected, we can help you lift the nail and apply a splint to keep it there. If the problem is more severe, part of the nail may have to be removed by an expert in order for the condition to improve. This can be done in our office. If the same ingrown toenail recurs multiple times, we may additionally suggest that part of the nail bed be removed, preventing that portion of the nail from growing back.
Tips for Prevention
Although you can’t always prevent ingrown toenails—especially if they’re the result of an injury—there are two helpful tips that can minimize your risk. The first is to wear well-fitting, roomy shoes that don’t press on your nails and force them to grow in rather than out. The second is to take care when trimming: always clip straight across the nails, and don’t cut them too short—keep them about equal with the tips of your toes.
Don’t let toenail pain keep you down, and definitely don’t let it spiral out of control. If you’ve been dealing with persistent pain from a pesky ingrown toenail, or you’re worried about potential complications, give Family Foot and Ankle Center a call today. You can set up an appointment at one of our six area offices by dialing (513) 728-4800 or (859) 282-1572.