Toenails can be stronger than you might think at first. They help protect the ends of your toes from damage—and they certainly feel sharp if you ever kick someone with bare feet. Normally they sit on the ends of your digits and are fairly harmless. Sometimes, however, how they grow can go a bit wrong. Then you end up with ingrown toenails.
What Happens When a Nail Grows In
Ingrown toenails are nails that aren’t growing straight forward to the end of your toe. Instead, an edge curve and curls to the side, growing into your skin. There it pinches or even pierces your toe. This causes increasing pain as the nail grow deeper to the side. The area around the ingrown edge will appear red and swollen. The toe will feel warm and tender to the touch. If the hard keratin punctures the skin, it puts you at risk for infections as well. You may notice fluid draining from the wound and a slight foul odor.
How Your Nail Got That Way
Many different factors can lead to an ingrown nail. The natural, inherited shape of your toe and keratin may make you more prone to the problem. Trauma to the ends of your toe—like stubbing it hard or dropping something heavy on your foot—might damage the nail and make it grow in. Repetitive injuries to the ends of your digits might eventually lead to one as well. In some cases, preexisting conditions may play a role. Fungal infections change the shape of the keratin, so it may grow inward as a result. Shoes are a big factor. Footwear that is too small or too tight can pinch your toenails and curve the ends of the keratin. One of the most common culprits, however, is improper trimming. Nails that aren’t cut correctly are far more likely to grow into your skin rather than straight forward.
What You Can Do about Treating Ingrown Toenails
Ingrown nails do not improve on their own. They will only get worse. The sooner you begin treating ingrown toenails, the better. Conservative care is possible in the early stages of the problem. As the condition progresses, however, you will most likely need a procedure to have the ingrown edge removed. Dr. Gerald Mauriello will examine your toe and help you determine the best path to alleviate your discomfort.
Treating ingrown toenails conservatively is only helpful if you catch the problem early. Switch your shoes to styles that don’t press on or pinch the nail. Sometimes putting a cotton or floss splint under the edge that’s in-growing can help it grow straight and above your skin. Soak your feet in warm water with Epsom salts to alleviate swelling and tenderness in your toe.
If the nail is too ingrown to lift free of your skin, however, you’ll need a minor procedure to excise it. Your toe will be carefully numbed up. Then the offending edge will be cut out. In a few cases, you may need to have the entire nail removed to prevent the keratin from becoming ingrown again. Any infections from the damage will have to be treated with antibiotics. Ingrown toenails don’t have to be a constantly painful problem.