Ingrown toenails can be a very painful problem, but they’re also fairly common. In fact, surveys show that about 20% of patients who visit their family doctor for foot pain have an ingrown toenail.
So what is an ingrown toenail, exactly? And what is the best way to achieve ingrown toenail removal?
Let’s take a closer look.
The nails on your fingers and toes are meant to grow on top of the skin to provide a protective layer. An ingrown toenail occurs when the edge of the toenail begins growing into the skin, instead of on top of it. This leads to inflammation, and sometimes infection.
Ingrown toenails are most common on the big toe, and they can happen for several reasons.
In most cases, an ingrown toenail occurs because some external factor causes the nail to grow improperly.
For instance, improper trimming of the nail can create an imbalance between the size of the nail’s edge and the surrounding skin. In other cases, ill-fitting shoes can cause pressure on the big toe, which can lead to an ingrowth.
Acute or chronic pressure on the toe can also cause ingrowth. For instance, some patients report suffering from an ingrown toenail after dropping something on their foot or stubbing their toe. Regularly putting pressure on the toe through athletic activities like running or jumping can also cause ingrowth.
For other patients, the shape of their toenail simply lends itself to becoming ingrown. And, in many cases, more than one of these factors is present.
There are certain conditions that may put patients at a higher risk for ingrown toenails. These include conditions like diabetes, which can cause the toenails to become thicker. Heart disease, arthritis, and thyroid conditions all can cause swelling in the feet, which is another risk factor.
Overweight and obese patients may also be at a higher risk of ingrowth. This is because of increased pressure on the toes.
In rare cases, toenail fungus can cause an ingrown toenail. Fungal infections usually occur due to an injury in the nailbed. This, in turn, can cause unusual nail growth. If you suspect a fungal infection, you should seek medical attention.
The main symptom of an ingrown toenail is pain. In mild cases, you may only experience pain to the touch. If the problem is more severe, it may become painful to walk.
You will also notice redness and swelling in the skin along the side of your toe. If a pocket of pus forms near the nail, this is a sign of infection.
If you suspect an infection, it is important to seek medical care. In severe cases, a localized infection can lead to a soft tissue infection (cellulitis), or even a bone infection.
The appropriate treatment for an ingrown toenail depends on two factors. These are the severity of the condition, and its frequency.
If the problem is not severe, you may be able to achieve relief through soaking and elevating your foot. This will soften the skin around the toenail, which can make it possible to trim and prevent further ingrowth.
It is always helpful to take anti-inflammatories with an ingrown toenail. These will both alleviate pain and reduce swelling. A doctor may also recommend oral antibiotics to prevent infection.
If the ingrowth is severe, however, you should not attempt to resolve the problem at home. Trying to lift or remove the toenail yourself can lead to infection.
Another reason to seek professional treatment is recurrence. If you continue experiencing ingrown toenails, even after taking proper precautions, surgery may be required.
If the ingrowth has become infected, or if it keeps occurring, it may be time to seek medical intervention.
In some cases, in-office surgery may be necessary to actually remove the ingrown nail from the skin. To prevent future ingrowth from happening, the doctor may choose to remove part of the nail.
In severe cases, the whole nail may need to be removed. This usually occurs when both sides of the nail are ingrown, or when there is a complicating factor like diabetes.
Most often, the surgeon will simply perform a vertical cut on the offending part of the nail. This will reshape the part of the nail that is continually becoming ingrown, making future ingrowth less likely.
Ingrown toenail surgery is almost always done as an outpatient procedure. Most patients will have a fairly speedy recovery.
For the first day or so after surgery, you will want to limit the pressure you are putting on your toes. If you play a sport or have a very physical job, you may need to take a couple of days off. In the evening, it is a good idea to keep your feet elevated.
Make sure to follow all of your foot doctor’s wound-care instructions to prevent infection. After 24 hours have passed, you can clean the area as per their instructions. While the toe is healing, make sure to wear loose-fitting shoes to prevent irritation.
Ingrown toenails can be painful, but they are easy to treat with the right medical intervention. If you are suffering from an ingrown toenail, it’s important to seek ingrown toenail removal to prevent infection.
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