A toenail is said to be “ingrown” when its top corner curls downward and grows into your skin. This common condition typically affects your big toe, and it often develops after your nail is cut too short or trimmed to curve with the shape of your toe.
Early on, an ingrown toenail may simply be hard, swollen, and tender to the touch. Without proper self-care, however, it can become infected and progress into a painful and persistent problem that makes it hard to wear shoes or walk without wincing in discomfort.
At California Foot and Ankle Clinic in Riverside, California, our team of expert podiatrists treat ingrown toenails on a routine basis. Here, Sahand Golshan, DPM, and Ivan Aguilera, DPM, discuss the ins and outs of this familiar foot complaint, including when it requires professional treatment.
Understanding ingrown toenails
A toenail becomes ingrown when its side edge, top edge, or corner grows downward into the adjoining nail groove, or the soft skin tissue along the outer borders of your nail bed. Normal toenail growth, by comparison, extends straight along your nail grooves without curving down or inward.
Factors that can play a role in the development of an ingrown toenail include:
- Narrow footwear that crowds your toes
- Excessive toenail trimming; tapered corners
- Toenails that curve inward more than normal
- Traumatic toe injury that affects your nail bed
While the big toe develops ingrown toenails most often, the problem can affect any toe.
Self-care strategies for ingrown toenails
When it first appears, an ingrown toenail is little more than a mild irritant. It may look a little swollen and cause a twinge of discomfort when you inadvertently bump it, but it isn’t overly painful and doesn’t affect your ability to walk.
At this point, administering self-care treatments at home can encourage your ingrown toenail to resolve on its own. These strategies help ease discomfort and prevent infection:
- Soak your foot in a warm Epsom salt bath twice daily
- Keep your foot dry otherwise, and don’t wear shoes at home
- Avoid cutting your toenail, which can worsen your problem
- Wear roomy shoes or sandals to minimize toenail pressure
- Use an antibiotic cream and bandage to reduce infection risk
It’s important to note that if you have diabetes, peripheral artery disease (PAD), or any other chronic health condition that causes poor circulation and/or reduced sensation in your feet, you should seek expert care as soon as you notice an ingrown toenail — no matter how mild it may be.
As diabetic foot pain specialists, we can help ensure that a relatively benign ingrown toenail won’t develop into an infection that can rapidly endanger your overall health.
Knowing when to seek professional care
Ingrown toenails are one of the most common foot concerns we see at California Foot and Ankle Clinic. In fact, ingrown toenails account for about 20% of all podiatry office visits nationwide.
So, how do you know when you should seek professional care for your ingrown toenail?
If self-care remedies haven’t helped, or if your ingrown toenail seems to be getting worse, it’s time to schedule a visit with our team. Bacteria can enter your nail bed when your nail grows into the skin, or when the skin grows over your nail edge. Signs of an infected toenail include:
- Toe pain, tenderness, or discomfort
- Inflammation around your nail edge
- Darkening or reddening of the area
- Warmth or heat coming from your toe
- Pus draining from your nail edge
Left untreated for too long, an infection in your nail bed can lead to an infection or abscess in your toe that requires surgical intervention; it can also spread to the bone of the affected toe.
Expert treatment for ingrown toenails
It’s often possible to treat less severe ingrown toenails through careful professional trimming, followed by the placement of a tiny piece of gauze between your nail and the nail groove. This can encourage your nail to grow along the skin instead of into it.
If your ingrown nail doesn’t heal or keeps coming back, it may require surgical treatment. Using a local anesthetic, this minor in-office procedure involves removing the ingrown part of your nail (partial nail avulsion) along with a small area of skin that’s contributing to the problem. In some cases, your entire nail must be removed.
Your nail should regrow in 2-4 months. In the meantime, you can expect to take an oral antibiotic or apply a topical antibiotic to resolve the infection in your nail bed. If you’re prone to developing ingrown toenails, our team can discuss preventive strategies to help reduce your long-term risk.
If your ingrown toenail needs expert care, don’t hesitate to schedule a consultation with one of our skilled podiatrists at California Foot and Ankle Clinic. Call our office at 951-405-8500 today.