If you’ve ever had an ingrown toenail, you will know the excruciating pain it can cause. Everyday activities like walking become chores, and you can all but forget about hitting the gym. Without proper care, your nail can become infected, leading to further complications.
A toenail becomes ingrown when the side of the nail starts to curl or dig its way into the surrounding tissue. Whilst your big toe is most likely to be affected, the lesser toes can also become ingrown. One of the most common nail problems, ingrown nails affect men and women of all ages.
There are multiple reasons why ingrown toenails develop, but the most common causes are poorly trimmed nails and tight-fitting footwear. If you cut your nails too short, the sharp edges can burrow into the surrounding skin and cause the nail to become ingrown.
Experts recommend cutting your nail straight across so that the corners lie loosely against the skin at the sides. Avoid trimming your nails too short or into rounded, pointy or V-shapes as this can cause the nail to become ingrown. Always cut your nails with specialized tools like nail clippers, scissors, or a nail file.
Tight, ill-fitting shoes add pressure to the toes and nails, often resulting in longer nails curving or digging into the toe. Over time, this continued pressure forces the nail to curve further into the flesh, resulting in an ingrown nail.
Other common causes of ingrown toenails include:
- Injury or trauma
- Genetic reasons such as naturally curved or thick nails
- Excessively sweaty feet
- Diseases that cause poor blood flow to the feet such as diabetes
- Certain medicines such as those used to treat cancer
Stages and Symptoms of Ingrown Toenails
According to the National Institutes of Health, ingrown toenails can go through three stages:
- Stage 1 is when inflammation begins, with moderate pain, swelling, redness, and fluid accumulation visible at the site.
- Stage 2 is characterized by worsening symptoms, increased pain and the discharge of pus from the wound.
- Stage 3 is the most severe and often requires medical attention. New tissue can form over the wound, trapping and escalating the infection.
It’s generally not hard to identify if you have an ingrown toenail. Apart from the pain, you may notice some of the following symptoms:
- Pain and tenderness in your toe along one or both sides of the nail
- Redness around your toenail
- Swelling of your toe around the nail
- Infection of the tissue around your toenail
To lessen the severity of infection, it’s recommended to start treatment as soon as you notice any symptoms.
How to get rid of ingrown toenail? Thankfully, it doesn’t often require medical attention. You can treat most ingrown toenails naturally at home, but if you have underlying medical conditions such as diabetes, poor circulation or nerve problems, it’s best to consult your doctor.
If the nail is not infected and you’ve caught the issue early, the Mayo Clinic recommends these home remedies to help alleviate the pain.
Try a Foot Soak
Soak your foot in warm water for at least 15 minutes for three to four times a day. Add soap or Epsom salt for added relief. This helps soften the skin, reduce swelling and keep the area free from bacteria. Ensure you dry your foot completely after each soak.
Place Cotton Under the Nail
After soaking your foot, gently lift the nail and place some small bits of cotton under the ingrown nail. This helps guide the nail to grow above the skin and prevents the nail from digging into the surrounding tissue.
Apply Antibiotic Cream
Wear Open-Toed Shoes
Whilst you’re suffering from an ingrown nail, it’s wise to choose sensible footwear. Open-toed shoes or sandals keep your feet free and don’t force pressure on your toes as traditional shoes do.
Take Pain Relievers
Many over-the-counter painkillers can help relieve the pain associated with an ingrown nail. Ibuprofen, paracetamol, and naproxen will help ease pain and inflammation and are generally considered safe at recommended doses.
When to Seek Medical Advice
If the infection has spread or you’re having difficulty dealing with the problem at home, it might be time to speak to a doctor. They can check the nail for infection and recommend treatment options. In severe and recurring cases, health professionals often view surgery as the most effective treatment.
In some cases, partial removal of the nail may solve the problem. Under local anesthesia, your doctor can remove the ingrown portion of the nail and bandage the wound. Your doctor may also prescribe topical or oral antibiotics to fend off infection.
Removing the Nail and Tissue
In recurrent and severe cases, doctors opt to remove a portion of the nail along with the underlying tissue. Known as the Vandenbos procedure, this prevents that portion of the nail from growing back. This is the most common procedure as studies have shown excellent cosmetic results, no recurrences and high rates of patient satisfaction.
Preventing ingrown toenails is far easier than fixing them. Experts recommend these tips:
- Trim nails straight across and avoid cutting them too short.
- Always wear proper-fitting shoes and socks.
- Avoid trauma to the toes and feet.
- Wear protective footwear if your job increases the risk of injury.
Ingrown toenails are a stubborn ailment affecting many people. The overwhelming pain can be hard to control, but with the right treatment, your toe will heal in no time. Foot soaks and over-the-counter painkillers can help relieve the pain, and antibiotic ointments help stave off infection.
If you’re constantly suffering from ingrown toenails, speak to your doctor about a treatment plan. In many cases, they will recommend surgery as it’s seen as the most effective way to get rid of an ingrown toenail.