Ingrown toenails are toenails that have grown into the skin of the toe, causing pain, swelling and, frequently, infection. Usually, it is the corner of the big toe that is affected by this condition, although the smaller toes can also develop this problem. Ingrown toenails may occur as a result of tight-fitting shoes, a curved growth pattern of the nail itself, an injury, or improper toenail cutting. If left untreated, an ingrown toenail is likely to develop an infection and may even require surgery to remove the nail.
Symptoms of Ingrown Toenails
Ingrown toenails present with pain, swelling and redness. Many ingrown toenails, particularly when they first develop, can be treated at home by soaking the foot in warm water, keeping the area clean, applying antibiotic cream to the area and wrapping the toe in gauze or bandages. If there are signs of active infection, such as pus, however, or if the patient has diabetes or another disorder that interferes with proper circulation or immune response, a physician should be promptly consulted.
Treatment of Ingrown Toenails
The doctor may place a piece of cotton under the nail to separate it from the skin that it is growing into, encouraging growth above the edge of the skin. For more severe or recurrent cases, part of the nail and the underlying tissue may have to be removed in order to remove the infection. Removal of an ingrown toenail may be partial or complete and is performed under local anesthetic. The procedure can be done surgically or using chemical or laser techniques.
Patients can prevent ingrown toenails by protecting their feet from trauma, using extreme care when cutting their toenails, and by wearing comfortable, well-fitting shoes. Patients with diabetes and other underlying conditions that put them at greater risk for infection or complications should take special precautions and visit a podiatrist at regular intervals.