What Causes An Ingrown Toenail? How To Treat It?

Ingrown toenails are among the most common of foot problems and most people would have suffered from this condition at some time or another. It happens when the edge or side of a toenail grows into the soft flesh that is around it. When this happens the area around the nail becomes red, swollen and painful and infections often occur because of the broken skin. Although ingrown toenails are most common on the big toe, they can happen on any toe.

The Causes

There are a number of reasons why an ingrown toenail condition develops. Among the most common are:

Ø  Cutting the nails too short or not straight across. This can cause the growing nail to cut into the flesh that surrounds it.

Ø  Wearing shoes that push against your toenails causing them to grow in an unnatural manner

Ø  Injuries to the toes or toenails

Ø  Hereditary conditions like unusually curved toenails.

In addition to these, medical conditions like diabetes, arthritis, fungal nail disease, poor foot hygiene, incorrect posture and gait and obesity can also cause ingrown toenails. If left untreated ingrown toenails can infect the underlying tissue and bone which in turn can lead to other health complications.

Home Treatment

If an ingrown toenail is spotted in its early stages it may be possible to treat it at home. One of the most common ways, if there is no infection, is to place a small cotton ball or waxed dental floss under the toenail to keep it separate from the skin into which it is cutting. Once the nail has grown enough to be clear of the surrounding skin, the cotton or floss can be removed. Soaking the toe in warm water a few times each day will relieve the pain and discomfort. After the soaking the toes must be completely dried. If this does not help, over-the-counter pain medication may be used.

When to See a Doctor

If the condition does not improve after a few days of home treatment or if there are signs of infection, a doctor, preferably a podiatrist (a doctor specializing in conditions of the feet), should be consulted right away.

The doctor may try prescription medications to relieve the condition if it has not progressed too far. This could include topical or oral medications. However, if the doctor feels that the condition has reached a stage when medication will not suffice, he may advise minor surgery. There are two options here. In many cases the doctor may trim or remove the port of the nail that is growing into the skin. A local anesthetic is used to numb the toe before the procedure.  If the problem is a recurring one the doctor may advise removing a portion of the nail along with the underlying tissue, to prevent that part of the nail from growing in the future. This can be done by traditional surgical methods, the use of chemicals or applying a laser.

The actual course of treatment will be decided by the podiatrist after examining the toe and studying the patient’s medical history to see if there are other medical issues that have to be taken into account when treatment is prescribed.

Preventing Recurrence

The podiatrist will advise the patient on how to prevent the condition from recurring in the future. If the condition has been treated at home then not cutting the nails too short, cutting them straight and not rounded, wearing wide toed shoes to prevent pressure on the toes and protecting the toes from sporting injuries are among the common precautions to be taken.


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