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Definition

What is ingrown toenail?

Ingrown toenails are a condition in which the toenail grows into the soft flesh, instead of over it. It is caused by the pressure from the ingrowth of the nail edge into the skin of the toe. Once the edge of the nail breaks through the skin, it produces inflammation. Initially presenting as a minor discomfort, it may progress into an infection in the adjacent skin (cellulitis) and/or become a reoccurring problem. Ingrown toenails most commonly affect the large (great) toes. However, any of the toenails can be affected on either border or side.

How common is ingrown toenail?

Ingrown toenails are common in adults and adolescents but less common in children and infants. They are more common in men than in women. Young adults in their 20s or 30s are most at risk. If you do not treat well, an ingrown toenail can progress to an infection or even an abscess that could require surgical treatment.

It can be managed by reducing your risk factors. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.

Symptoms

What are the symptoms of ingrown toenail?

The common symptoms of ingrown toenail are:

  • Pain and tenderness in your toe, along with one or both sides of the nail.
  • Redness around your toenail.
  • Swelling of your toe around the nail.
  • Infection of the tissue around your toenail.

Occasionally, ingrown toenails resolve without treatment.

There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.

When should I see my doctor?

You should contact your doctor if you have any of the following:

  • Experience severe discomfort in your toe or pus or redness that seems to be spreading.
  • Have diabetes or another condition that causes poor blood flow to your feet and experience any foot sore or infection.
  • Have a compromised immune system or poor circulation.
  • If home remedies are not successful within a week or there is persistent pain.

If you have any signs or symptoms listed above or have any questions, please consult with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.

Causes

What causes ingrown toenail?

  • Wearing shoes or socks that do not fit well and crowd your toenails.
  • Improper trimming of the toenail: cutting your toenails too short or not straight across, round the edge of the nail.
  • Injuring your toenail, especially if this happens often.
  • Having unusually curved toenails.

Risk factors

What increases my risk for ingrown toenail?

  • Have unusually curved toenails or thick toenails;
  • Athletics, particularly stop and start sports such as tennis, soccer, and basketball;
  • Improper shoe gear that is either too small or too large;
  • Repetitive pressure or trauma to the feet;
  • Poor foot hygiene;
  • Abnormal gait;
  • Foot or toe deformities, such as bunions and hammertoes;
  • Congenital toenail deformity;
  • Abnormally long toes;
  • Obesity;
  • Diabetes;
  • Fungus infection of the nails (onychomycosis);
  • Arthritis;
  • Bony or soft-tissue tumors of the toes;
  • Hyperhidrosis (excessive sweating of the feet);
  • Edema of the lower extremities;
  • Have the family history of ingrown toenail.

Diagnosis & treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.

How is ingrown toenail diagnosed?

A diagnosis involves a physical examination of the nail and the surrounding skins together with the symptoms.

How is ingrown toenail treated?

Your doctor might recommend these procedures:

  • Lifting the nail: for a slightly ingrown nail (redness and pain but no pus), your doctor may carefully lift the ingrowing nail edge and place cotton, dental floss or a splint under it. This separates the nail from the overlying skin and helps the nail grow above the skin edge. At home, you’ll need to soak the toe and replace the material daily.
  • Partially removing the nail: for a more severe ingrown toenail (redness, pain, and pus), your doctor may trim or remove the ingrown portion of the nail. Before this procedure, your doctor may temporarily numb your toe by injecting it with an anesthetic.
  • Removing the nail and tissue: if you have the problem repeatedly on the same toe, your doctor may suggest removing a portion of the nail along with the underlying tissue (nail bed). This procedure may prevent that part of your nail from growing back. Your doctor will use a chemical, a laser or other methods.
  • Your doctor may also recommend using topical or oral antibiotics, especially if the toe is infected or at risk of becoming infected.

Lifestyle changes & home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage ingrown toenail?

The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with ingrown toenail:

  • Soak your feet in warm water. Do this for 15 to 20 minutes three to four times a day. Soaking reduces swelling and relieves tenderness.
  • Place cotton or dental floss under your toenail. After each soaking, put fresh bits of cotton or waxed dental floss under the ingrown edge. This will help the nail grow above the skin edge.
  • Apply antibiotic cream. Put antibiotic ointment on the tender area and bandage the toe.
  • Choose sensible footwear. Consider wearing open-toed shoes or sandals until your toe feels better.
  • Take pain relievers. Over-the-counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen (Tylenol, others), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others) and naproxen sodium (Aleve) may help ease the toe pain.

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Sources

Review Date: January 4, 2017 | Last Modified: January 4, 2017

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