Ingrown toenails are a condition when either the nail burrows into the surrounding skin on the toe, or the skin grows over the nail. While ingrown nails can occur on any toe, they're most common on the big toe. The result is a painful, hard, red swelling at the nail’s corner. You may be tempted to let it heal by itself, but is that a good idea?
At Monroe Foot & Ankle Care, board-certified podiatrist Dr. Elliott Perel and his staff serve patients throughout the Monroe Township, New Jersey area. They understand that a lot of people don’t give much thought to ingrown toenails, hoping that if they ignore the problem, the nail will simply heal on its own. Unfortunately, that’s rarely a good idea. Here’s why.
What causes an ingrown toenail?
Ingrown toenails can result from a number of different causes:
- Cutting nails too short
- Rounding nail edges instead of cutting straight and filing
- Wearing tight shoes and/or socks that push the nail into the toe
- Stressing your toes, such as playing soccer, running, or doing ballet
- Having a family history
Paying attention to foot hygiene can prevent nails from becoming ingrown.
What happens if I ignore my ingrown toenail?
If you don’t address your ingrown toenail, the problem can become progressively worse.
First, the nail digs into the skin on the toe, causing pain at the corner of the nail plate, inflammation, and swelling. Second, the inflammation can open the door for a skin infection to take hold, and the toe may leak blood, pus, or both from the corner of the nail. Finally, granulation tissue develops, new skin that grows over the open infection. This perpetuates and worsens the infection. And still left untreated, the infection can spread.
Why you may need medical attention
While some ingrown toenails heal by themselves, many don’t, even with your best efforts. If your toe is swollen and hurts, especially if it’s inflamed and oozes pus, it needs to be treated by a physician.
Dr. Perel generally prescribes oral or topical antibiotics to address the infection, and he may need to partially or completely remove the nail (nail avulsion). If you have a severe case, he may also need to remove part of the underlying nail bed and growth center.
Surgical nail removal prevents the nail’s edge from growing inward again into the adjoining skin. Permanent toenail removal may be necessary for people with chronic or recurrent, infected ingrown toenails.
The UK National Health Service indicates that partial nail avulsion is 98% successful in preventing future ingrown toenails.
Is there anything I can do to help an ingrown toenail?
If you notice a nail becoming ingrown, you can try some at-home remedies to see if they’ll prevent an infection:
- Bathe toe in warm water and Epsom salts for 15-20 minutes, 3-4 times a day
- Wear breathable shoes so your feet don’t become damp
- Wear shoes with a wide toe box
- Don’t wear high heels
- Take OTC pain relievers and anti-inflammatories
- Apply topical antibiotic cream and cover with a bandage
If you don’t see an improvement in 2-3 days or see pus oozing from the nail, make an appointment with Dr. Perel.
Your feet deserve the same attention you give to your other body parts. If you’ve developed an ingrown toenail, your best bet is to come into Monroe Foot & Ankle Care for appropriate medical treatment. Give our office a call at 732-521-6166 to make an appointment or book online with us today.