Ingrown toenails might start out as a simple nuisance, that makes your shoes uncomfortable to wear, yet can easily transform into a very serious foot health problem. Some people are increasingly prone to recurring ingrown toenails, whereas others experience acute issues from time to time. Especially if you frequently wear tight shoes or have a bad habit of not taking good care of your feet. Unfortunately, both chronic or acute ingrown toenail problems, are at risk for infection as well as other potentially serious foot health problems.

What Is An Ingrown Toenail?

An Ingrown toenail typically develops at the corner or the edge of a toenail where it meets the skin. Most people develop ingrown toenail issues on their big toe, though any one of your toes can be vulnerable to ingrowing and other complications. When sock lint, debris, or dead skin cells start to build up in this trapped pocket of keratin it can lead to a painful and potentially dangerous infection.

What Causes Ingrown Toenails?

Ingrown toenails can be caused by a variety of things. Some people are genetically predisposed to chronic ingrown toenails simply due to the shape of their toes and how the nail grows in relation t the surrounding skin and other tissues. Though even people with completely ordinary, healthy feet can still suffer the indignity and discomfort of an ingrown toenail.

In general, ingrown toenails are more common in people with sweaty feet, as well as people who tend to wear tight-fitting shoes. Poor foot care practices and failing to cut your toenails routinely can also put you at increased risk of developing an ingrown toenail. It’s also worth noting that older people may also be at higher risk of ingrown toenails due to how toenails tend to thicken with age.

Other factors that can put you at increased risk for developing an ingrown toenail include things like cutting your toenails incorrectly, as well as wearing overly tight footwear & socks. It’s also worth noting that people who kick balls frequently like soccer players, ballet dancers, and football kickers are also at increased risk of chronic toe injuries that can increase the chances of a toenail becoming ingrown.

What Are Common Symptoms Of An Ingrown Toenail?

Early on an ingrown toenail might only cause minimal discomfort. You might only notice it when you are wearing tight shoes, playing a sport with a lot of kicking, or when you are sitting at a desk for prolonged periods with poor leg posture. As time goes on, an unaddressed ingrown toenail can gradually worsen into a more serious, and often painful problem.

As the ingrown toenail continues to develop, you might notice some of the following symptoms. Left unchecked, they can worsen to become severe.

  • The skin next to the nail becomes increasingly tender and swollen
  • The skin where the nail meets the skin starts to harden
  • Pressure on the toe cause pain
  • A noticeable buildup of fluid around the toe, especially near the nail

What Are The Signs Of An Infected Ingrown Toenail?

Left unchecked bacteria, fungus, and other microorganisms can establish a presence in the soft tissues surrounding an ingrown toenail. In a case like this, you might notice the following symptoms in the infected ingrown toenail.

  • The swelling in the affected skin starts turning red
  • Persistent pain that worsens when wearing tight socks or shoes
  • Bleeding or blood seeping from the skin where it meets the nail
  • Pus and other unpleasant discharge
  • An overgrowth of skin around the toe

How Are Ingrown Toenails Diagnosed?

Most of the time a physician or podiatrist can diagnose an ingrown toenail with a simple physical examination. In a severe case, where an X-ray might be needed to assess the structure of the toe. This is more likely if the ingrown toenail is somehow related to a foot injury.

How Do You Treat An Ingrown Toenail At Home?

If the skin surrounding the affected nail isn’t infected, you can usually treat an ingrown toenail yourself. This typically calls for soaking the foot in warm water with some dissolved Epsom salt 3 to 4 times a day for 15 to 20 minutes at a time. You could also try to physically pull the skin away from the nail to let it grow naturally. Topical antibiotic cream can then be applied after the foot is dried.
If this doesn’t improve symptoms, in 7 to 10 days, or you notice signs of a worsening infection, you should strongly consider seeing your doctor.

How Is Surgery Used To Treat An Ingrown Toenail?

In a more severe case, where there are infection complications or the ingrown toenail was caused by a serious foot injury, surgical intervention might be required.

There are a few different surgical treatments that might be called for to treat an ingrown toenail. Your doctor or surgeon will recommend the one that is best for your symptoms and the condition of your feet.

A Partial Nail Removal

This is a minimally invasive surgical treatment that only calls for removing the piece of nail that is digging into the skin of the affected toe. Before performing the procedure your toe will be numbed and the sides of the nail are carefully cut away. A small piece of cotton is then placed under the remaining portion of nail tissue to temporarily prevent the nail from becoming ingrown again.

If your ingrown toenail problem is chronic or recurs due to the physical characteristics of your toe, your surgeon might treat the affected toe with a compound called phenol. This treatment strategy effectively keeps the nail from growing back.

Total Nail Removal

Also known as a matrixectomy, this surgical treatment calls for removing the entire ingrown toenail. It is more commonly recommended for severe ingrown toenail problems caused by increasing thickening of the nail itself. While it is more intrusive than a partial nail removal, a matrixectomy can still be performed on an outpatient basis, and the toe can be numbed sufficiently with a local pain injection.

After Care For Ingrown Toenail Surgery

After a partial or total nail removal procedure, your physician will send you home with your toe bandage. It’s important to keep your foot elevated for a day or two, and you may need to wear loose-fitting shoes to let the surgically altered tissues heal properly. Your surgeon will provide you with any other necessary care instructions and might recommend a follow-up appointment in a week or two to ensure that everything is healing properly.