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What Causes Ingrown Toenails?

Dr. Eman Elmi
December 16, 2022
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Ingrown toenails aren’t just unsightly, but they’re also painful to deal with. What causes ingrown toenails? What can you do to fix them? What can you do if they get infected? Diablo Foot & Ankle has the answers to these questions. We’ll look at what causes ingrown toenails and how to fix an ingrown toenail, too.

Ingrown Toenails: What Causes Them?

Ingrown toenails form most frequently when clipped toenails grow into the skin of the toe. This can cause the area to grow hard, swollen, or tender. If you wear shoes that fit too tightly, you are at an increased risk of ingrown toenails. Any shoe that puts pressure on the nails can cause ingrown toenails and additional pain after they develop. Ingrown toenails are a common condition, especially among children and teenagers. However, they can affect people of all ages.

Ingrown toenails most frequently happen on the big toe, but they can occur on any toenail. Most cases will resolve themselves naturally over time. If treated appropriately, the condition clears up within a few days, at the most in about a week. If the condition persists, reappears, or if the ingrown toenail is infected, make an appointment with your foot specialist.

What to Do With an Infected Ingrown Toenail

If you’re concerned about an infected ingrown toenail, there are several steps that can be taken to remedy it. Most cases shouldn’t require extensive treatment, but there are cases when more serious action is required. 

For example, if inflammation or swelling is excessive, or there is a discharge present, the toenail is probably infected. You may be asked to take oral antibiotics and the nail may need to be partially or completely removed. If necessary, the doctor can surgically remove portions of the nail, the underlying nail bed, or adjacent soft tissues. If it’s resistant to home treatment or frequently reinfected, surgery is an effective way to mitigate infected ingrown toenails. 

If the infection returns chronically, the doctor may do a procedure called a_ _partial nail avulsion. This requires a local anesthetic and scissors to cut away the ingrown toenail, exposing the nail bed. It may take three to four months for your toenail to regrow after this procedure.

Anyone looking to fix an ingrown toenail should start with home treatment. Soak the foot in water three to four times daily. Keep the foot dry for the rest of the day. Wear comfortable shoes with room for the toes. If possible, consider wearing sandals until the condition clears up to give your toes further breathing room. 

If the pain from the ingrown toenail is an issue, try over-the-counter treatments like ibuprofen or acetaminophen. If the condition doesn’t improve after two or three days or worsens, call your doctor. For especially severe cases, you may need to gently lift the edge and insert packing material between the toenail and skin. This can be a small piece of cotton gauze or waxed dental floss or a similar material. Change this packing material every day.

How to Fix an Ingrown Toenail

Generally, most ingrown toenails can be prevented and treated by following some basic advice. Wear shoes and socks with adequate room for your toes. When cutting toenails, they should be cut straight across without tapering or rounding the corners. Trim the nails no shorter than the edge of the toe, and keep your feet clean and dry. 

If your ingrown toenail is persistent or seems infected, it might be time to see a specialist. Ingrown toenails are one of the common podiatric conditions we come across at Diablo Foot and Ankle. Our board-certified specialists will advise you on treating your ingrown toenail or any other foot or ankle problem.

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