An ingrown toenail is the perfect example of a very small problem that can cause a very large amount of discomfort. An ingrown toenail is caused by the edge of the nail growing down into the skin and most often occurs on the big toe. If the nail punctures the skin, it creates an entry for bacteria and infection. When the toe becomes red, swollen and warm or begins draining an infection should be considered.
The most common causes of ingrown toenails include clipping the nail too short, wearing shoes that are too tight, or trauma (e.g. stubbing the toe). Although you cannot always avoid stubbing your toe on that pesky table leg, you can avoid the other two main causes. When clipping your toenails, avoid rounding the edges of the nail. Instead, cut the nail straight across with no rounding of the edges. The nails should never be cut shorter than the edge of the toe. Also, make sure that your shoes fit properly and give your toes enough room to wiggle at the end.
Depending on the severity of the discomfort and the presence or absence of infection, treatment can either be conservative or surgical. Conservative treatment should begin at home as soon as an ingrown toenail is suspected. Begin by soaking the affected foot in warm water 3 to 4 times a day and keeping the foot dry between soaks. Ibuprofen and acetaminophen can help reduce the inflammation and pain. If you don’t notice any improvement after 2 to 3 days, or it seems to be getting worse, make an appointment with the doctors at our office.
The doctor will assess whether or not the toenail is infected and will surgically remove the part of the nail that has penetrated the skin. This is a small, in-office procedure with a very quick and easy recovery. If ingrown toenails are a recurring problem, the nail can be removed permanently by killing the growth center at the base of the nail. If you have any current medical conditions that reduce blood flow or sensation to your feet (e.g. Diabetes, Peripheral Vascular Disease) and you are concerned about an ingrown toenail you should avoid at home treatment and make an appointment immediately. Pre-existing conditions can increase the risk of complications.
If you have an ingrown toenail, consider making an appointment with Dr. Gary Friedlaner or Dr. Jay Larson at Sole Foot and Ankle Specialists in Glendale, Arizona. As always, we are here to answer your questions and keep your feet in great health.