A toenail becomes ingrown when its corner edge curls down and grows into the bordering area of skin. This frequent foot problem affects the big toe most often, usually developing after the nail is either cut too short or trimmed to curve along the shape of the toe.
Ingrown toenails are one of the most common foot concerns we see at Family Foot and Ankle Center of South Jersey. Ingrown toenails account for about 20% of foot-related doctor visits nationwide.
Our podiatry team treats ingrown toenails on a routine basis, but not all ingrown toenails need professional care. Read on as Dr. Joseph DiMenna and Dr. Joseph Bakanas discuss the ins and outs of this familiar foot complaint and explain the difference between an ingrown toenail that’s likely to heal on its own and one that requires a visit to our office.
How did I develop an ingrown toenail?
An ingrown toenail occurs when its corner, side edge, or top edge grows into the adjoining nail groove or the skin tissue along the outer borders of your nailbed. Typically, your toenail extends straight along your nail grooves without growing downward or curving inward.
You’re more likely to develop an ingrown toenail if you:
- Wear narrow and/or high shoes that crowd your toes
- Trim your toenails excessively or create tapered corners
- Have toenails that curve down or in more than usual
- Have a traumatic toe injury that affects your nailbed
While any toe can develop an ingrown nail, most cases occur in the big toe.
Will my ingrown toenail go away by itself?
Early on, an ingrown toenail is usually little more than a mild irritant. It may be a bit hard, a little swollen, and somewhat tender to the touch, but it probably isn’t painful enough to affect your ability to wear shoes or walk normally.
At this point, there are several self-care treatments you can try at home to encourage your ingrown toenail to go away on its own. Use these strategies to help ease discomfort, promote healing, and prevent infection:
- Don’t cut the affected nail; trimming can worsen the problem
- Keep your feet clean and dry, and avoid wearing shoes at home
- When you go out, wear roomy shoes to keep pressure off your nail
- Give your foot a twice-daily soaking in a warm Epsom salt bath
- Apply an antibiotic cream and bandage to reduce infection risk
In most mild to moderate cases, these strategies work well to passively encourage the release of the trapped toenail and gently heal the affected nail groove.
Does my ingrown toenail require expert care?
Professional foot care is a must for every ingrown toenail that falls into one of the following general categories of greater concern:
You have diabetes or poor circulation in your feet
Diabetes, peripheral artery disease (PAD), or other serious health conditions can cause poor circulation or reduce sensation in your lower extremities and feet. Never ignore or try to treat an ingrown toenail on your own, no matter how mild it seems.
Instead, seek professional care as soon as possible. As neuropathy and diabetic foot care specialists, our team can help ensure that your relatively benign ingrown toenail won’t rapidly progress into a severe wound or infection that threatens your overall health.
Your ingrown toenail hasn’t healed or is getting worse
If your ingrown toenail has persisted or worsened despite any self-care remedies you may have tried, it’s time to schedule a visit with our team.
A lingering ingrown toenail leaves you more vulnerable to infection, as bacteria can readily enter your nailbed when the nail grows into the skin or when the skin grows over the nail edge. Common signs of an infected toenail include:
- Persistent toe pain or tenderness
- Inflammation along the nail edge
- Darkening or reddening of the area
- Warmth or heat around the area
- Drainage from under the nail edge
Left untreated, an infection in your toenail bed can cause a painful skin abscess (pocket of pus), spread to the toe itself, or even spread down to the bone.
Professional treatment for ingrown toenails
Whether you have an ingrown toenail that’s not getting better or seems to be progressing — or if a chronic condition that affects the circulation and sensation in your feet complicates your ingrown toenail — we can help. Our team may resolve your problem through:
- Nail trimming and gauze placement to promote normal growth
- In-office surgical treatment (partial nail avulsion) to release problematic nail
- Preventive strategies if you’re prone to developing ingrown toenails
If you’ve got an ingrown toenail you’re worried about, don’t hesitate to schedule a visit with our skilled podiatrists at Family Foot and Ankle Center of South Jersey. Call 856-266-9572 to reach our office in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, today.