Doctor Inspecting an Ingrown ToenailIngrown toenails are a common problem, but that doesn’t make them any less painful. When a toenail doesn’t grow as it should and instead digs into the surrounding skin instead of going outward, the area can get irritated at best—and infected at worst. If you have an ingrown toenail, a podiatrist can determine the cause and the best treatment option.

Causes of Ingrown Toenails

If you have an ingrown toenail, you may be wondering how you got it. Ingrown toenails can develop a number of ways, from an injury to simple genetics.

How an Ingrown Toenail Can Develop

  • Improper shoes. Figuring in time at work, leisure activities, and travel time, most people wear shoes the majority of every day. If your shoes are too tight, they can force your toenails into an unnatural position and make your nails grow into the skin. You should have about half an inch between your toes and your shoes.
  • Trauma. Dropping a heavy object on your toe or stubbing your toe can cause swelling, which in turn can cause the nail to grow at an awkward angle.
  • Repetitive actions. If you play a sport where you kick a ball repeatedly or you’re an active runner, the repetitive force over time can cause the nail to grow incorrectly.
  • Improper trimming. Your nails need regular trimming, but if you trim too closely, you can cause nearby skin to grow over the nail, causing an ingrown nail. At the same time, letting your nails get too long can have the same result.
  • Genetics. Despite their best efforts, some people are just predisposed to ingrown toenails. Human toenails range in curvature, and if you have very curvy nails, you’re at risk.

Ingrown Toenail Symptoms

Many people think an ingrown toenail is evident as soon as it happens, but that’s not always the case. While the symptoms will be clear once the issue is severe, there are some signs you can look out for to detect an ingrowth early on.

How to Tell if You Have an Ingrown Toenail

  • Swelling or tenderness around the nail
  • Hardness where the nail is growing into the skin
  • Difficulty walking or wearing shoes
  • Pain when you apply pressure to the nail

The longer an ingrown toenail is left untreated, the worse it will get. Left alone, you may start to see signs of infection, which include red, swollen skin, bleeding, pus coming from the nail, or skin growing around the nail.

The risk of infection from an ingrown toenail is especially dangerous for people with conditions like diabetes. A toe infection for a person with diabetes can quickly lead to gangrene, which could lead to an amputation if not treated. While that’s a rare (and worst-case) scenario, it shows the importance of conducting daily foot exams and addressing problems quickly.

How Not to Treat Your Ingrown Toenail

If you research home remedies for an ingrown toenail, you’ll see several methods people swear by. Unfortunately, some of these aren’t just useless; they will potentially make things worse.

One of the most common tricks is cutting a notch in the nail to prevent it from curling inward. However, this will have no impact on the nail’s curve, and it’s easy to injure yourself further. The same applies to the notion of trimming your nail extremely close. Both of these methods take away your nail’s natural protective element.

You may also see a recommendation of putting a cotton ball under the nail. The American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons warns explicitly against this, though, saying that it doesn't relieve pain, and it can increase the risk of infection.

How a Podiatrist Treats an Ingrown Toenail

When you have an ingrown toenail, your best course of action is to let a podiatrist handle things. Fortunately, there are several treatment options, all of them very conservative.

  • Lifting the nail. If the nail is not fully grown into the skin, your podiatrist may try lifting the nail, or placing a small splint under it to separate it from the surrounding skin.
  • Removing some of the nail. Under professional supervision, removing a portion of the nail can effectively treat an ingrown toenail. But this involves actually taking away a part of the nail root so that it doesn’t grow back, not just trimming it.
  • Prescription cream. Corticosteroid cream is used to treat bug bites or rashes, but your doctor may prescribe it to help fight off an infection in your toe.

If you have an ingrown toenail, don’t try to fix it yourself. At Shenandoah Podiatry, we’ve dealt with numerous ingrown toenails before, and our staff has the experience to get you back on your feet quickly. We know doctors are scary for some people, but we designed our practice to have an inviting atmosphere so you’re at ease the moment you walk in.

Call our Roanoke office at 540-904-1458 to set up your appointment today. You can also use our online contact form and we’ll be back in touch to set up your personalized treatment plan.