Ingrown toenails, also called hangnails, are toenails that grow into the flesh of the toe rather than straight up. This causes pain and in many cases, severe infection.
There is a wide variety of causes for this condition. The most common is the improper trimming of the toenail. This is more common in women probably because they have pedicures more frequently than men.
Some pedicurists trim the nails lower on the sides for a more elegant look. However, this will make the toenail grow back right into flesh, thus causing the pain and swelling. To avoid getting an ingrown toenail this way, it would be better if you cut your nails on your own or at least tell the salon people not to trim it too low or too close to the nail bed.
Another factor that helps in the development of an ingrown toenail is the wearing of very tight fitting shoes. When the footwear is too constricted and the toes are constantly pressed against each other, the toenails will be forced to grow into the flesh.
Also, tight closed shoes, especially those made from synthetic materials, make it impossible for air to circulate freely around your feet. The heat makes your feet sweat which then softens the flesh of the toes surrounding the toenail, making it more easily penetrable by the growing nail. This is probably the reason why athletes are also more prone to having an ingrown toenail.
Other causes of ingrown toenails are obesity, hyperhidrosis or excessive sweating, diabetes, hyperthyroidism or the overproduction of thyroid hormones, and other congenital conditions.
An ingrown toenail has three main stages of development. During the initial stage, the pain caused by the ingrown toenail is quite tolerable. It is more of a discomfort than actual pain. The nail is just beginning to embed itself into the flesh of the toe.
The second stage of an ingrown toenail involves the secretion of thick fluid around the nail. The pain will be much more and it will be impossible to wear closed shoes. The third and final stage is where the granulation tissue is already very apparent in the lateral nail fold. The infection will be at its advanced stage and the pain will become unbearable. Even walking will become an agonizing ordeal during this stage.
To avoid experiencing these extreme effects of an ingrown toenail, it is advisable to go in for treatment once you see the first symptoms. When the infection has not yet started, you can try soaking your foot with the ingrown toenail in a basin of warm water to soften the granulation tissue that has formed over the nail. You can then use a silver nitrate ointment to completely remove the tissue.
In more advanced cases, you will need to take medication to bring down the swelling and to remove the infection for nail and health before attempting to remove the granulation tissue or the embedded toenail.