An ingrown toenail is a podiatric condition where the toenail burrows into the skin beside it, or the skin grows over the edge of the nail. Any nail can become ingrown, but it’s most common on the big toe.
At Monroe Foot & Ankle Care in Jamesburg, New Jersey, board-certified podiatrist Dr. Elliott Perel and our team understand that most people don’t give much thought to ingrown toenails. Many miss the warning signs completely or think the problem will go away on its own. But will it?
What causes an ingrown toenail?
Ingrown toenails occur for many reasons:
- Cutting nails below the toe edge
- Rounding nail edges; they should be cut straight across
- Wearing tight shoes and/or socks that push the nail into the toe
- Actively stressing your toes by engaging in activities such as long-distance running, playing soccer, or doing ballet
- Having a family history of ingrown nails
Understanding what’s needed for proper foot hygiene can prevent nails from becoming ingrown.
The warning signs of ingrown toenails
Ingrown toenails produce a number of characteristic signs as they develop.
As the nail burrows into the skin on the toe, it causes pain at the nail plate’s corner, usually followed by inflammation, redness, and swelling at the penetration site.
The inflammation makes the toe vulnerable to skin infections. If the toe becomes infected, it can leak blood, pus, or both from the penetration site.
New skin called granulation tissue grows over the open infection, worsening the problem. Left untreated, the infection can spread to other areas of the foot.
Can my ingrown toenail heal on its own?
Many people try the “out of sight, out of mind” approach to their ingrown toenails, but all that does is prolong and worsen the problem. Whether it’s at-home or in-office treatment, most of the time you need to do something to change the conditions of your toe to allow it to heal.
You can start with at-home remedies to see if they prevent an infection:
- Use a warm water/Epsom salt soak for 15-20 minutes, 3-4 times a day
- Wear breathable shoes; sweaty socks encourage infection
- Wear shoes with a wide toe box; avoid high heels
- Take over-the-counter pain relievers and anti-inflammatories as needed
- Apply topical antibiotic cream and cover with ba andage
If you don’t see improvement in a few days, or if the nail starts oozing pus and/or blood, make an appointment with Dr. Perel.
When ingrown toenails need medical attention
A painful, red, and swollen toe, especially if it’s oozing, needs to be treated by a physician.
Dr. Perel starts by prescribing oral or topical antibiotics to address the infection. Then, he determines if he needs to partially or completely remove the nail (avulsion). If you have an advanced ingrown nail, he may also remove part of the underlying nail bed and growth center.
Surgically removing the nail prevents the new nail from growing inward. If your ingrown nails are chronic, recurrent, or infected, the doctor may need to remove the nail permanently.
In one study, partial nail avulsion was nearly 100% successful in preventing future ingrown toenails.
If you’ve got an ingrown toenail, chances are it’s not going to go away on its own, but Monroe Foot & Ankle Care can help. To get started, give our office a call at 732-978-9569, or book online with us today.