Any nail can become ingrown, but it’s more common in the toes than in the fingers, and most common in the big toe. An ingrown nail occurs for one of two reasons:
- The skin on one or both sides of the nail grows over the nail itself
- The nail grows into the skin around it
In either case, you experience a painful, hard, red swelling at the nail’s corner, often followed by an infection. You may see a small amount of pus leaking from the site of the growth.
At Monroe Foot & Ankle Care in Jamesburg, New Jersey, podiatric physician and surgeon Dr. Elliott Perel and his team are well versed in the problem of ingrown toenails. Since this problem can largely be prevented, they put together this guide to help you understand what you need to do to keep your feet healthy and happy.
Ingrown toenail causes
You’re likely to develop ingrown nails for many reasons, including:
- Cutting nails too short
- Rounding the nail edges rather than cutting straight across
- Wearing tight-fitting shoes or socks that press the nail into the toe
- Stubbing or jamming your toe
- Putting repeated stress on your toes from poor posture or sports that stress your feet, such as ballet, running, or soccer
- Having a nail too big for the toe
- Inheriting genes that make you more likely to develop them
If the cause of the ingrown toenail continues, the skin growing over the nail can create permanent tissue changes, leading to infection, more pain, and more swelling.
Treating ingrown toenails
As soon as you notice your toenail is becoming ingrown, you should start with some at-home remedies to prevent it from progressing to an infection. Some suggestions include:
- Soak the foot in warm water 15-20 minutes, 3-4 times a day; dry thoroughly
- Use Epsom salts to draw out inflammation
- Give your feet a chance to breathe to avoid sweat or dampness; open-toed shoes are good
- Use a wedge to lift your nail, and put dental floss or cotton under the edge so it will grow upward; change daily
- Apply antibiotic cream and cover with a bandage to protect the toe
- Pick shoes with lots of toe room; don’t wear heels
- Take OTC pain relievers to reduce tenderness and swelling
If you don’t see an improvement in 2-3 days, or if the condition worsens, including becoming infected, make an appointment to see Dr. Perel. Some treatments he can provide include:
- Prescription antibiotics: oral or topical to remove the infection
- Lifting the nail: using a splint to lift the nail so it will grow above the skin
He may also provide surgical options, removing part of the nail, part of the underlying nail bed, some of the adjacent soft tissues, and/or part of the growth center. He may also use laser technology to permanently prevent regrowth of the ingrown portion.
Preventing ingrown toenails
Unless you have a congenital problem leading to ingrown nails, the best way to prevent the problem includes the following foot health practices:
- Protect feet from trauma
- Wear shoes and socks that have room for the toes, and let your feet breathe
- Cut nails straight across with a clean, sharp nail trimmer
- Don’t taper the corners of your nails
- Don’t trim the nails any shorter than the edge of the toe
- Keep your feet clean and dry
If, despite your best preventive efforts, you do get an ingrown toenail, especially if it becomes infected, contact Monroe Foot & Ankle Care to set up an appointment. You can give the office a call at 732-328-6798, or you can book online.