Most people, at least once in their lifetime, will likely have to deal with an ingrown toenail. I have had multiple myself, and I will admit to being that person in the bathroom with my nail clippers, trying to dig it out in order to get some relief, even if it is only temporary. Though I advise against performing bathroom surgery on your toe, there are ways to avoid developing an ingrown toenail, as well as methods to treat them at home.
WHAT IS AN INGROWN TOENAIL?
When part of the nail, usually the medial (inside) or lateral (outside) edge, irritates the adjacent skin or nail fold, it can cause pain and inflammation. This is considered an ingrown toenail. In addition to pain, one may also notice increased swelling and/or redness of the surrounding skin. If there is purulent drainage (usually yellow or green) or malodor, this is consistent with an infected ingrown toenail (aka paronychia).
WHY DO INGROWN TOENAILS OCCUR?
It is still not known what exactly causes ingrown toenails. Possible theories include trauma and improper trimming of the nail. Trauma, genetics, hyperhidrosis (excessive sweating), and certain medical conditions may also increase the likelihood of developing ingrown toenails (1).
TREATMENT OF INGROWN TOENAILS:
The treatment options for ingrown toenails depends on the severity of the condition. If there is minimal pain and/or redness, at-home remedies, such as soaking the foot in warm, soapy water and applying antibiotic ointment to the area may fix the problem; however, this may only be a temporary solution as it is not treating the underlying issue, which is the nail irritating the skin (1). If symptoms worsen, or there is purulent drainage, advice from a healthcare professional should be sought out as soon as possible. Digging out the nail yourself using unsterile instrumentation should be avoided as it can make the condition worse.
What should you expect when you see the doctor for an ingrown toenail?
If conservative treatment has failed, one may need to undergo a nail procedure to removal the involved portion of the nail. Local anesthetic is typically used to numb up the toe first. Then, options for removal include removing part (or all) of the nail and allowing it to grow back or removing the ingrown part of the nail and destroying the nail matrix, or root of the nail, (called a chemical matrixectomy). This prevents that portion of the nail to grow out again. Partial nail avulsion procedures with a chemical matrixectomy are usually saved for recurrent ingrown toenails. If there are signs of infection noted, a short course of oral antibiotics may also be prescribed. After the procedure, a dressing is placed around the toe and the patient is sent home with post-procedure instructions, which should be followed until the toe is healed, which could be days to a couple weeks, depending on the severity of the ingrowth, the presence or absence of infection, and the type of procedure done.
1. Make sure your shoes fit properly and are not too short or tight.
2. Cut toenails straight across (RIGHT picture) and do not round the corners (LEFT picture) or try to dig them out (1).
1. After noticing that you have an ingrown toenail, do not wait too long before seeing a physician for treatment, especially if it is not getting better or is getting worse.
2. Avoid digging out the corners of the nail or the sections that are ingrown.
3. Do not share your nail clippers with others.
Disclaimer: The above information is meant for educational purposes only and should not be construed as medical advice. Please consult your healthcare professional should you have questions or concerns regarding your health.
1. V-shaped, S. R. (2009). Management of the ingrown toenail.