Ingrown Toenail

If you trim your toenails too short, particularly on the sides of your big toes, you may set the stage for an ingrown toenail. Like many people, when you trim your toenails, you may taper the corners so that the nail curves with the shape of your toe. But this technique may encourage your toenail to grow into the skin of your toe. The sides of the nail curl down and dig into your skin. An ingrown toenail may also happen if you wear shoes that are too tight or too short.

Symptoms

When you first have an ingrown toenail, it may be hard, swollen and tender. Later, it may get red and infected, and feel very sore. Ingrown toenails are a common, painful condition—particularly among teenagers. Any of your toenails can become ingrown, but the problem more often affects the big toe. An ingrown nail occurs when the skin on one or both sides of a nail grows over the edges of the nail, or when the nail itself grows into the skin. Redness, pain and swelling at the corner of the nail may result and infection may soon follow. Sometimes a small amount of pus can be seen draining from the area.

Ingrown nails may develop for many reasons. Some cases are congenital—the nail is just too large for the toe. Trauma, such as stubbing the toe or having the toe stepped on, may also cause an ingrown nail. However, the most common cause is tight shoe wear or improper grooming and trimming of the nail.

Treatment

Nonsurgical Treatment

Ingrown toenails should be treated as soon as they are recognized. If they are recognized early (before infection sets in), home care may prevent the need for further treatment:

  • Soak the foot in warm water 3-4 times daily.
  • Keep the foot dry during the rest of the day.
  • Wear comfortable shoes with adequate room for the toes. Consider wearing sandals until the condition clears up.
  • You may take ibuprofen or acetaminophen for pain relief.
  • If there is no improvement in 2-3 days, or if the condition worsens, call your doctor.

You may need to gently lift the edge of the ingrown toenail from its embedded position and insert some cotton or waxed dental floss between the nail and your skin. Change this packing every day.

Surgical Treatment

If excessive inflammation, swelling, pain and discharge are present, the toenail is probably infected and should be treated by a physician (see left image below). You may need to take oral antibiotics and the nail may need to be partially or completely removed (see middle image below). The doctor can surgically remove a portion of the nail, a portion of the underlying nail bed, some of the adjacent soft tissues and even a part of the growth center (see right image below).

Your Doctors

Tips for Healthy Feet

  • Don’t ignore foot pain, it isn’t normal. If pain persists, see a physician.
  • Inspect your feet regularly. Note changes in color and temperature, thickness or discoloration of nails, and cracks or cuts in the skin. Peeling or scaling on the soles could indicate athlete’s foot. Any growth on the foot is not considered normal.
  • Wash your feet regularly, especially between the toes. Be sure to dry them completely.
  • Trim toenails straight across, but not too short. Be careful not to cut nails in corners or on the sides; it can lead to ingrown toenails. People with diabetes, poor circulation, or heart problems are more prone to infection and should not treat their own feet.
  • Make sure that your shoes fit properly. Replace worn-out shoes as soon as possible, and try on new shoes later in the day when feet tend to be at their largest.
  • Select and wear the right shoe for your activity, in other words, running shoes for running.
  • Don’t wear the same pair of shoes every day, but rather alternate them.
  • Avoid walking barefoot. Your feet are more prone to injury and infection when walking barefoot. When at the beach or wearing sandals, remember to use sunscreen on your feet as well as the rest of your body.
  • Use home remedies cautiously. Self-treatment often turns a minor injury into a major foot problem. If you have diabetes, it is essential that you see a podiatric physician at least once a year for a thorough check-up.