The "Ow" in Ingrown Toenails

What is an ingrown toenail?

An ingrown nail is defined as when the skin on one or both sides of a toenail develops over the nail edges or when the nail itself grows into the skin. The medical term for the condition is onychocryptosis. Although it most commonly occurs on the big toe, the lesser toes may also be affected.

What are some reasons for ingrown toenail occurrence and the resulting pain?

Ingrown toenails may be caused by a variety of factors. They can have genetic origins; the nail is just too large for the toe or may be curved, leading to the predisposition of the condition. Or they may be due to trauma to the area such as stubbing your toe, dropping a heavy object or having it stepped on. Improper clipping of toenails such as trimming too short leads to skin inflammation and shoe friction upon that skin further increases the pain. An impacted toenail can first be seen directly after improper grooming of toenails. The nail looks like it has been cut back too far and there is exposure of the pink tissue around the edge. Running often and hard leads to formation of ingrown toenails because the pressure on the toes from the shoes. Wearing tight shoes or shoes too small for the feet also lead to the condition because the toes have no room and the nails are becoming compressed.

How do you know that you have an ingrown toenail?

Besides causing discomfort and pain, there are other indications that lead to the diagnosis of an ingrown toenail. The signs of a toe with an ingrown toenail are redness, swelling, tenderness and rigidity. In some cases, there may be pus drainage from the area of the impacted toenail. In addition, the condition will not fix itself and the nail will not correctly grow out. The nail keeps growing into the tissue surrounding it and increasing the severity of the pain. When you take a toenail clipper to the nail, it will become harder to trim the nail back. The skin around the ingrown toenail is very sensitive to touch and even contact with socks and shoes will inflict pain! In addition, an ingrown toenail may lead to infection causing further inflammation and pain! Ingrown toenails are a common and uncomfortable foot condition that cause a lot of pain and discomfort. There are many reasons for ingrown toenail occurrence and some of those causes can be eliminated with education and hygiene.

What are ways to prevent an ingrown toenail?

The most frequent causes of ingrown toenails are improper toenail clipping and tight shoe wear. Both of these reasons can be easily remedied.

Toenail clipping

Many people are unaware that there is a certain technique involved when it comes to clipping toenails. Toenails should never be longer than the tips of your toes, but do not cut them too short as to reveal the soft pink tissue underneath. This skin tissue is easily inflamed, causing pain. When attempting to cut toenails, make sure to use proper toenail clippers. A normal nail cutter has slightly curved cutting edges while a toenail cutter has edges that are straight across in order to reduce the likelihood of ingrown toenails. Observe the natural line of your toenails and when grooming toenails make sure to trim them straight across. Do not round off or cut the corners of your nails or pry the corners when cutting.

Shoe wear

Proper-fitting shoes are essential for good foot health. Small, tight shoes not only compress the toes and toenails, they do not allow your feet to breathe, lead to foot discomfort, and may even affect the biomechanics of your walking. When shoe shopping, do it in the late afternoon or evening because you feet are at their largest size. In addition, make sure your foot size is measured every time before purchasing shoes to ensure an appropriate fit.

What are treatments for an ingrown toenail?

There are a variety of non-invasive and invasive (surgical) treatments for an ingrown toenail: soak your foot in warm water, wear comfortable shoes with a sufficient room for your toes, consider wearing open-toed shoes to prevent shoe material from touching the affected area, and take aspirin or ibuprofen for pain relief.

As soon as you detect an ingrown toenail make an appointment with your podiatrist! An ingrown toenail may be complicated by an infection, so it is best to leave your problem in their hands. In the case of an infection, your doctor may prescribe oral antibiotics. Surgical intervention may be necessary to remove the offending part of the nail and prevent infection. A partial or complete nail avulsion is a procedure where the doctor injects anesthetic in your toe and then instruments are used to cut away the ingrown toenail portion without disturbing the nail bed. If you follow your podiatrist’s recommendations, you will minimize your discomfort and hopefully prevent the recurrence of the problem!