Ingrown toenails occur when the nail grows into the soft skin of the nail bed (or the skin of the nail bed grows over the toenail). They usually affect the big toe, although ingrown nails can occur on any of the toes or fingers. It is very common for ingrown toenails to become infected. The surrounding skin will become red, swollen and sore to the touch. Often pus or some kind of discharge will be released.
Ingrown toenails are a very common foot problem but the good news is that they are easily prevented. A little proper foot hygiene will go a long way when it comes to safeguarding your feet against ingrown toenails.
The most common cause of ingrown toenails is ill-fitting footwear. Shoes that are too tight (especially shoes with small toe boxes) will cramp your toes. These cramped quarters apply pressure to the toenails; this pressure encourages the nails to grow into the skin. Shoes that cause the feet to sweat excessively also tend to promote ingrown toenails. When you keep your feet in a wet environment, the nail bed softens and swells. This is why it is so important that athletic shoes are sized correctly (usually a half size larger to account for the swelling of the feet). Athletic shoes that are sweaty and too tight are practically an invitation for ingrown toenails.
Proper nail trimming is also important. Nails should be cut straight across. Nails that are tapered on the edges (so that the nails appear rounded) will encourage the nail to grow into the skin of the nail bed. Be careful that there is no shard or splinter on the side of your nail that will grow into the toe. Toenails should not be cut too short. A good rule of thumb is to cut the nail no shorter than the end of the toe. You don’t want the nail to be shorter than the skin surrounding it. Injury or trauma to the foot also may result in an ingrown toenail. Sometimes something as simple as stubbing your toe or dropping something on your foot can injure the tissue in such a way that the nail grows irregularly.
Finally, some people are genetically predisposed to ingrown toenails either because of the shape of their nail beds or the natural curve of their nails. People with chronic ingrown toenails will want to consult a podiatrist about the best form of prevention and treatment.