They probably aren’t quite as useful as they might have been with our ancestors, but toenails still have plenty of positive benefits. They provide some protection to our sensitive toes (even inside shoes), are thought to help some with balance, and are a decorative canvas for many. As long as they grow out straight, everything is usually fine. However, the odds are high that you’ve had at least one instance in your life when a toenail went off course and began growing into the surrounding flesh. That’s an ingrown toenail, and it can range from a mild nuisance to a big problem.
A Painful Detour
Ingrown toenails are a very common condition. Although any toe can suffer from wayward growth, the big toe is the victim in a vast majority of cases. An ingrown nail will often feel painful and tender along one side, or sometimes both. The skin around that area will often become red and swollen.
While an ingrown nail is often not a condition of high concern, it can be accompanied by a risk of infection. Symptoms of infection often include more severe pain, pus discharge, and a redness that spreads outward from the area. Those who have diabetes or another condition that inhibits blood flow to the feet should treat every case of ingrown toenails seriously, as their risk of infection and other complications is more significant.
There can be several different factors at play when determining what causes a toenail to become ingrown. For some people, it can simply be a matter of their genetic makeup. As odd as it might sound, the toenail might be too large for the toe, or just tends to curve downward. In many other cases, however, the causes are more external. Trimming nails too short or tapering the corners may condition the nail to grow incorrectly. Wearing shoes that are too tight or too short can also pressure the nail to grow in an unwanted direction.
Getting Back on Course
If your toe is not severely painful and shows no signs of infection, then your ingrowth may be able to be treated at home. Soak the foot in warm water for 15-20 minutes up to four times per day to reduce swelling and pain. After drying the foot from a soak, apply some antibiotic cream and a bandage.
If you do not see improvement in 2-3 days, start to show signs of infection, or consistently suffer from ingrown nails, then it’s time for a professional evaluation. We can treat many cases conservatively with proper cleaning, but severe or persistent cases may require some minor surgery.
A partial removal of the nail might be considered the best route in some severe cases. The toe is numbed with a local anesthetic and the ingrown part of the nail is trimmed or entirely removed. If the problem just keeps coming back, then a full removal of that part of the nail and underlying nail bed might be recommended. In this procedure, the tissue beneath the nail will be treated to prevent it from growing back.
Ingrown toenails don’t have to be a pesky problem in your life, and they certainly don’t have to become an infected one. Dr. Timothy Barry and the staff of Family Foot & Ankle Care of Jasper can help keep your toes on track and your feet free of pain. Call us at (812) 481-7200 and we’ll be happy to set up an appointment with you.