Patient Education

Ingrown Toenail

Ingrown ToenailAn ingrown toenail is a painful condition of the toe. It occurs when a sharp corner of the toenail digs into the skin at the end of or the side of the toe. This “digging in” of the nail irritates the skin, often creating pain, redness and swelling in the toe.

If an ingrown nail causes a break in the skin, bacteria may enter and cause an infection in the area, which is often marked by drainage and a foul odor. However, even if your toe isn’t painful, red, swollen, or warm, a nail that curves downward into the skin can progress to an infection.

If left untreated, an ingrown toenail can progress to an infection or even an abscess that requires surgical treatment. Ingrown toenails can affect all ages. Any toenail can become ingrown, but the condition is more common in the big toes.

Ingrown toenails can develop for various reasons. In many people, the tendency to have this common disorder is inherited. In other cases, an ingrown toenail is the result of trauma, such as stubbing your toe, having an object fall on your toe, or engaging in activities that involve repeated pressure on the toes, such as kicking or running. Trauma leads to the deformity of the nail. Another cause of ingrown toenails is wearing shoes that are too tight or short.

Ingrown Toenails Treatment

Anytime an ingrown toenail has developed into an infection (drainage, a fever, lighter skin surrounded by red skin, or worsening pain and swelling), see a doctor.

Sometimes initial treatment for ingrown toenails can be safely performed at home. However, home treatment is strongly discouraged if you suspect you have an infection, or if you have a medical condition that puts your feet at high risk (for example, diabetes, nerve damage in the foot, or poor circulation). If you don’t have an infection or any of the above conditions, you can soak your foot in room-temperature water (add Epsom’s salt if you wish) to help reduce the inflammation.

Avoid attempting “bathroom surgery.” Repeated cutting of the nail can cause the condition to worsen over time. If your symptoms fail to improve, it’s time to see a foot doctor.

Treatment may include:

  • Oral antibiotics. If an infection is present, an oral antibiotic may be prescribed.
  • Surgery. A simple procedure, often performed in the office, is commonly needed to ease the pain and remove the offending nail. Surgery may involve numbing the toe and removing a corner of the nail, a larger portion of the nail, or the entire nail.
  • Permanent removal. Various techniques may be used to destroy or remove the nail root. This treatment prevents the recurrence of an ingrown toenail. Your foot doctor will determine the most appropriate procedure for you.

Many cases of ingrown toenails may be prevented by following these two important tips: Trim your nails properly. Cut your toenails in a fairly straight line, and don’t cut them too short. Avoid poorly-fitting shoes. Don’t wear shoes that are short or tight in the toe box.