An ingrowing toenail is a common condition which may cause discomfort or become infected. Various treatments can be given by the podiatrist. See a podiatrist if you have symptoms of infection around the nail, particularly if you have diabetes, a poor immune system or other foot problems.
What is an ingrowing toenail?
The nail becomes in-grown when the side of the nail cuts into the skin next to the nail. This can become painful. The skin next to the nail may also become infected or inflamed. Any toe can be affected, but it is usually the big toe. It is a common problem, especially in teenagers and young adults.
What causes ingrowing toenails?
Ingrowing toenails are usually caused by a sharp spike of nail growing into the skin beside it. This can happen as a result of various factors. Not trimming your nails correctly, wearing poorly-fitting shoes or tight socks, and sweating a lot (during exercise for example) can all contribute. Shoes which force the toes towards each other encourage the nail to grow into the skin. For example, tight shoes, high heels and pointed-toe shoes. Active, sporty people may be more prone to ingrowing toenails as they sweat more. Ingrowing toenails may occur more often in people who have nails which are deformed in some way.
It is also more common in people who cut their toenails very short and round. The correct way of cutting nails is straight across. This helps the nail to grow normally and may prevent ingrowing toenails from developing.
Other possible causes are injury to the nail, or a fungal infection of the nail.
When a spike of nail pierces the skin of the toe, it allows the germs that are normally harmlessly present on the skin to get underneath the skin and cause infection.
What are the symptoms of an ingrowing toenail?
Early on, the skin around the ingrowing nail may become reddened and feel slightly tender. If it progresses and becomes infected, it may become more swollen, red and painful. If the infection gets worse, there may be some yellow or green fluid (pus) oozing from around the nail. It will become even more painful and there may be an overgrowth of skin around the nail.
What is the treatment for an ingrowing toenail?
Ingrowing toenails are usually treated by a podiatrist who is qualified to diagnose and treat foot disorders. In some cases, surgery is helpful.
If caught early
If the ingrowing part of the nail is small, it may be prevented from becoming worse, and sometimes cured, by the following. This treatment may be given by a podiatrist or you may be shown how to do it yourself:
- Soak the toe in water for 10 minutes to soften the folds of skin around the affected nail.
- Then, using a cotton wool bud, push the skin fold over the ingrown nail down and away from the nail. Do this starting at the root of the nail and move the cotton wool bud towards the end of the nail.
- Repeat each day for a few weeks, allowing the nail to grow.
- As the end of the nail grows forward, push a tiny piece of cotton wool or dental floss under it to help the nail grow over the skin and not grow into it. Change the cotton wool or dental floss each time you soak your foot.
- Do not cut the nail but allow it to grow forward until it is clear of the end of the toe. Then cut it straight across and not rounded off at the end.
There are variations on this method - the principle is to keep the skin from growing over the edge of the nail.
Antibiotics may be needed to treat infection. It can also help to soak your feet in warm salty water, then carefully dry and rest your feet.