An ingrown toenail can be extremely painful and may become infected if not treated promptly. According to the American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons, improper nail trimming is the most common cause of this condition. If caught in the early stages, ingrown toenails can be successfully treated at home.
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An ingrown toe nail occurs when the edges of the toenail grow into the skin at the sides of the nail bed. When this happens, the skin becomes irritated and painful. An infection may develop if part of the nail pierces the skin.
Symptoms include redness, swelling, and warmth and pain in the toe. When an infection occurs, you may notice some drainage around the toe and a foul odor. If you have an ingrown toe nail, the edge of the nail may seem to disappear into the surrounding skin.
If you cut your nails in a rounded shape, instead of cutting them straight across, the edges of the nails are more likely to grow into the skin. Nails that are cut correctly but are cut too short can also increase the chance of an ingrown toe nail. Some people have nails that naturally curve downward and despite careful nail cutting, these people still develop ingrown toe nails. Curved nails usually occur due to an inherited tendency or the effects of tight shoes. If you've had trauma to your toe in the past, such as stubbing your toe, it may be likely to develop an ingrown toe nail. Other causes include fungal infections and too much pressure from toes on either side of a toe. If you have particularly fleshy toes or have a problem with swollen feet, you may be more likely to develop this condition.
If you have an ingrown toe nail, you may be able to reduce the chance of infection by soaking your foot in lukewarm water and massaging the sides of the nail fold. This procedure helps reduce inflammation in the toe. After drying your toe, apply antibiotic cream. If you have poor circulation, nerve damage in the feet, diabetes or another disease or condition that can put your feet at risk, you shouldn't attempt home treatment, but should see your doctor at the first sign of an ingrown toe nail.
If home treatment fails and your toe continues to be painful, inflamed or intected, your may want to visit your doctor. The first step in treating the conditon is prescribing antibiotics to resolve an infection if one if present. If the nail has pierced the skin, your doctor may suggest an in-office procedure to remove the piece of the nail causing the problem. The procedure may involve removing a small projection from the nail or a larger area if the entire side of the nail has become ingrown. In some cases, particularly if ingrown toe nails are a recurring problem, permanent removal of all or part of the nail may be recommended.