If you do lawn care, you know how the grass can grow out over the edges of the cement. Now, think of your toenails as the cement and your skin as the grass. The analogy isn’t perfect, but it gives you an idea of what ingrown toenails look like. The cement and grass don’t feel pain, but when your nail grows into/under the surrounding skin, the result can be quite painful.
Why Toenails Grow Crooked
The main causes of ingrown toenails are shoes that pinch your toes and improper toenail cutting. The problem usually affects your big toe, which is often pushed out of position in pointy-toed footwear. This constant pressure on the side of your toe pushes the skin over your nail and can cause the nail itself to curve down at the edge. Shoes that are too short can cause the nail to curl, too, as can an injury to the toe (stubbing, dropping something heavy on it) or an inherited nail that curves more than normal. All of these underlying causes can be aggravated if you don’t trim your nails in the proper way (more on that in a moment).
Is My Toenail Ingrown Infected?
You will notice certain symptoms if you have this problem. The first may be a feeling of tenderness—a little “ouch”—when you happen to bump it or slip it into a tight shoe. The skin at either side of the toe can appear red and swollen and may spread inward over the edge of the toenail. If the issue isn’t addressed, an infection can develop and a clear fluid or yellow-green pus may seep out where the nail and skin meet. At this point, any pressure on the toe can cause severe pain.'
Treating Ingrown Toenails
If the problem isn’t severe, you can do several things at home to heal it. Start by soaking your feet in warm water for 15 minutes several times a day. Soaking can actually reduce swelling. Plus, it might ease your pain because softened tissues don’t usually hurt as much. Once you have dried them thoroughly, you can try lifting the curled down edge of the nail and putting a small piece of absorbent cotton or waxed dental floss underneath to encourage it to grow straight again. Use a dab of antibiotic cream and bandage the toe. It is a good idea to wear open toed sandals until the problem gets better.
If you don’t see any improvement, it’s time to come in and have Mark Gasparini, D.P.M., take a look. He can safely lift the nail and place cotton, floss, or a splint beneath it. If redness and pus are present, you may consider having us anesthetize the toe and remove the curled part of the nail. If you keep having problems with the same nail, part of it can be permanently removed so it doesn’t grow back.
The Best Treatment is Prevention
To keep an ingrown toenail from developing, wear shoes that don’t crowd your toes and protect your feet with steel-toed boots if they are at risk of injury at work. Also, learn how to trim your nails properly. They should not be cut too short, but also not left so long that they bang against the tips of your shoes. Most importantly, don’t cut corners—literally! If you round off the corners of your nails, they are more likely to curve and grow into the skin when pressure is put on them. Cut them straight across with a sharp nail clipper and use an emery board to gently smooth any sharp corners or rough edges. Do this when they are dry, not wet, to avoid tearing the nail.
If you have diabetes or trouble bending to reach your feet, it is advisable to let Mark Gasparini, D.P.M., cut your nails so you don’t injure yourself. Call our office in Massapequa, NY at (516) 804-9038, or contact us online for an appointment. Don’t let the pain of ingrown toenails hold you back any longer.