Ingrown nails occur when the nail curves downward into the skin, at the nail borders. This often leads to pain, redness and swelling. If the nail breaks the skin, bacteria set into this wound to create an infection with a foul odor and drainage.
The main causes for ingrown nails are ill-fitting shoes and improper trimming of nails. Tight shoes that press the nail sides make the nail curl into the skin while nails trimmed down at the corners tend to grow inwards.
Sometimes trauma to the nail plate or two like while stubbing the toenail or dropping something on it can lead to irregular growth of the nail into its flesh.
Though ingrown nails can occur in any nail, it is predominantly occurs in the big toe. Once dirt and sweat enters the infected region, the skin of the nail becomes red, tender and swollen. At times, there may also be some pus.
For mild conditions, soaking your foot in warm water for 15 to 20 minutes and then placing some dry cotton on the corners of the nail is sufficient treatment. However if the condition gets worse with increased pain, swelling and drainage in the area, minor surgery will be required to remove the part of the nail that pokes into the skin.
There are various over the counter preparations available to use to harden the skin and in the process, shrink the tissues surrounding the nail so that it grows normally. If required, you may wear a soft, foam toecap to protect the ingrown nail till it heals.
While it is possible to take care of ingrown toenails on your own, if the pain gets severe, it is better to approach your doctor who will be able to take the necessary steps to provide relief and to avoid complications. People suffering from diabetes and other conditions that lead to a poor circulation in their feet are at a greater risk of suffering from complications that arise from ingrown nails.