An ingrown toenail is medically known as onychocryptosis and it is one of the most common foot ailments. It occurs when a toenail begins to grow into a fleshy part of the toe. Ingrown toenails are frequently painful, with the skin of the toe becoming inflamed and swollen. As the toenail penetrates the skin it causes a wound which can easily become infected.
Majority of the cases of ingrown toenails occur on the big toe; however the problem can occur on the lesser toes and ingrown nails can also occur with the fingernails.
There are several reasons that could lead to the occurrence of ingrown toenails, with the two commonest causes being incorrect trimming of toenails and wearing restrictive footwear. Shoes that are too small in the toe area crowd the toes together and place pressure on the outside of the big toe. This can push the skin into the nail making it more likely that the nail penetrates the skin, and starts to grow into the flesh of the toe.
Cutting the toenails incorrectly can easily lead to ingrown toenails. When the toenails are cut straight across and are not trimmed to short, the chance of developing an ingrown toenail is only slight. When the nails are trimmed too much, and especially when they are rounded off at the edges it can encourage the ingrown toenails, especially when there is also pressure exerted on the side of the foot. Cutting nails can also leave small shards of nail which can easily penetrate the skin.
In some cases the inward curving of the nail happens naturally and not as a result of incorrect cutting of the toenails or pressure. Some individuals have toenails which curl around excessively at the edges, making ingrown toenails a frequent problem. Thick nails can be a problem as can any injury to the toe which forces the nail into the flesh of the toe.
Ingrown Toenail Treatment
Basic home treatment includes soaking of the feet for about 20 minutes in warm water with antiseptic solutions beneficial at helping to prevent infections. The feet should be soaked up to 4 times a day when possible, and certainly morning and night. Antiseptic creams can also be applied after the toes are thoroughly dried to fight off infections. Many people try to ease the pressure from the nail to provide some relief, with inserting a piece of matchstick or cotton wool under the nail. Whilst this can provide immediate relief, lifting the nail can lead to further injury, and cotton wool can be a breeding ground for bacteria making infection more likely. Cotton wool needs to be changed twice daily.
When ingrown toenails become severe, or continue to develop, a slither of nail can be removed by a doctor to prevent the condition from recurring. This is a minor surgical procedure completed on an outpatient basis, and is highly effective, although it may leave the toe feeling sore afterwards for a little while. Part of the nail and nailbed can also be destroyed, either with electrical current or chemicals to prevent the nail from growing back. Whilst this may sound painful, the procedure is painless, with the area first numbed before the nail is removed.
Whilst many people resort to home bathroom surgery out of frustration, this should never be attempted. Removal of the nail in a non-sterile environment is asking for trouble and can leave he toe wide open to infection. If the nail is not properly removed, the problem can become far more severe and serious damage can easily be inflicted to the nailbed.
Home treatment can be highly effective with an ingrown toenail file, which can be used to gently file down the nail to prevent it digging in. This treatment will ensure no shards of nail are left and the nail remains smooth, and limits the chance of damaging the nail or skin.
When Home Treatment Should NOT be Attempted
Anyone with nerve damage, diabetes or circulation problems should never attempt home treatment, and should seek medical attention immediately. If there are any signs of infection such as pus coming out from the swollen skin, this needs to be cleared before treatment is attempted, and requires a doctor’s visit for a prescription of antibiotic cream or oral antibiotics.