Ingrown toenails occur when the edges or corners of the nail grow into the skin next to the nail. Your big toe is most likely to get an ingrown toenail.
For the most part, you can treat ingrown toenails at home. However, sometimes they cause complications that could make medical treatment necessary. You are at higher risk of such complications if you have diabetes or other conditions that cause poor circulation.
Anyone can get an ingrown toenail. They occur in both men and women.
According to Britains National Health Service, ingrown toenails may be slightly more common in teenagers, who tend to have sweatier feet. Older people may also be at higher risk, because toenails thicken with age (NHS).
Many things can cause an ingrown toenail. Common causes include:
Ingrown toenails can be very painful. They usually get worse in stages. It is important to treat your ingrown toenail as soon as possible.
Early stage symptoms include:
If your toe becomes infected, symptoms may include:
Your doctor will most likely be able to diagnose your toe with a physical exam.
If your toe seems infected, you might need an X-ray. This can show how deep the nail is. An X-ray may also be taken if:
Ingrown toenails that are not infected can normally be treated at home. However, if the toenail has pierced the skin or there is any sign of infection, it is a good idea to seek medical treatment. Signs of infection include:
To treat an ingrown toenail at home, try:
If the toenail does not respond to home treatments, you may need surgery.
There are several ways that surgery can be used to treat an ingrown toenail.
Partial nail removal removes only the piece of nail that is digging into your skin. Your toe will be numbed. Then your doctor will narrow the toenail. The sides will be cut away so the edges are completely straight. A piece of cotton will be placed under the remaining portion of the nail to keep the ingrown toenail from reoccurring. Your doctor may also treat your toe with a compound called phenol. This keeps the nail from growing back.
Total nail removal may be used if your ingrown nail is caused by thickening. The doctor will give you a local pain injection and then remove the entire nail.
Your doctor will send you home with your toe bandaged. You will probably need to keep your foot raised for the next one to two days. Try to avoid as much movement as possible. Your bandage is usually removed on day two. Your doctor will advise you to wear open-toe shoes and to do daily saltwater soaks until your toe heals.
Your doctor will also prescribe pain relief medication and antibiotics to prevent infection.
Ingrown toenails can be prevented. Here are some tips to help you avoid ingrown toenails:
If your toenails are abnormally curved or thick, surgery may be necessary to prevent ingrown nails. According to the National Health Service, partial nail removal is 98 percent effective for preventing ingrown toenails (NHS).