What Is an Ingrown Toenail?

Ingrown toenails are a common source of pain and frustration for patients of all ages—from young children to older adults. When a toenail becomes ingrown, the corner or edge of nail starts to dig into the soft skin as it grows out. This can lead to severe irritation, including tenderness, redness, swelling, and warmth.

If ingrown nails break the skin, they create an entry point for bacteria and may ultimately become infected. Signs of infection include pus, drainage, and odor. Infections are serious problems, especially for those with diabetes or any other condition that reduces circulation to the toe. Fortunately, ingrown toenails are very easily treatable by our experienced staff.

What Causes Ingrown Toenails?

Ingrown toenails may have genetic or environmental triggers.

Toenail Trimming
  • Your genetics. Unfortunately, some people simply inherit an elevated risk of developing ingrown toenails. If your toenails are naturally very curved, you are far more likely to have problems.
  • Your shoes. Tight shoes that press on the toenails can force them downward and into the skin. Always give toes plenty of wiggle room, with about half an inch of space before the front of the shoe.
  • Sudden trauma. An acute injury, like stubbing your toe or dropping an object on your foot, can cause an ingrown toenail.
  • Repetitive trauma. Activities that place repetitive pressure on the nails, like running or kicking a soccer ball over and over, can also cause ingrown nails.
  • Toenail trimming. Leaving your nails to long leaves them more susceptible to pressure. At the same time, cutting them too short can encourage nearby skin to fold over the nail.
  • Foot or Toe Deformities:  Certain foot types and some deformities such as bunions and hammertoes can put more pressure on the edge of the nail, leading to an ingrown toenail.

Can I Treat Ingrown Toenails at Home?

If you are healthy and your ingrown toenail remains mild, you may be able to treat it at home by soaking your feet in lukewarm water and gently massaging the side of the toe near the nail. However, it is almost always safer and quicker to have your ingrown toenail treated by a professional.

Do not attempt to treat ingrown toenails at home if you suspect an infection or have a high-risk condition like diabetes. Never, under any circumstances, attempt to cut out the ingrown nail yourself.

Physician Care for Ingrown Toenails

The best way to deal with a painful ingrown toenail is to visit a foot specialist. We will often perform a minor in-office surgical procedure to remove the ingrown edge of the nail under local anesthetic. This procedure is quick, painless, and you can be on your way and go about your day afterward. If we detect an infection, we will also prescribe an oral antibiotic.

If ingrown nails are a recurring problem, we may recommend an additional procedure to remove part of the nail matrix, also known as the nail root. Once this is complete, the edge portion of the nail that becomes ingrown will not grow back, solving the problem on a more permanent basis.

Considering how quickly and easily most ingrown toenails can be dealt with at any of our offices, there’s no reason to continue suffering at home. To schedule an appointment with the Northwest Extremity Specialists, please fill out our online contact form or call the office closet to you directly.