Ingrown Toenails: Infections, Prevention & Treatment

Ingrown Toenails: Infections, Prevention & Treatment

When it comes to the smallest things causing the most pain, there’s no truer example than an ingrown toenail. These little spicules have seen our patients be barely able to walk, be unable to tolerate having a bedsheet over their toes at night – and even brought grown men to tears. So, what exactly is an ingrown toenail, why do they occur and how can you treat and prevent them? Today, our Marlborough Podiatry team are filling you in on all things ingrown toenails!

Ingrown toenails: The low-down

When part of your toenail rubs against and pierces the surrounding skin, this is the moment it technically becomes an ingrown toenail. From this moment, without treatment, it’s also when your ingrown toenail will continue to worsen as the nail spicule moves further, deeper and more painfully into the skin. Any of your toenails can become ingrown on one or both sides of the nail – and you may have one or more toes affected at the same time – or one that recurs over and over. 

If you have an ingrown toenail, you may experience:

  • Redness and swelling on the side of the toe where the nail has become ingrown
  • Pain and tenderness – that can range for a mild throbbing sensation to a sharp dagger-like pain in the side of the toe
  • Pain when walking or with any pressure on the affected toe
  • The swollen skin may start to protrude over the nail
  • Bleeding from the area where the nail has pierced and penetrated the skin
  • Clear or yellow discharge from the ingrown side of the nail which may indicate that an infection has developed

Why did my ingrown toenail develop?

Unfortunately, the majority of ingrown toenails that we see and treat are self-inflicted, though genetics can also play a role. The top four causes of ingrown toenails include:

1. Wearing narrow, pointed or tight footwear

When you wear shoes that squeeze your toes, you’re pushing the toenail and skin closer together for potentially hours at a time, thereby reducing the space available between the skin and toenail and encouraging the nail to grow into the skin.

2. Curving the nails when you trim them

When you have a poor nail cutting technique and curve the sides of your nails when you trim them, this can encourage ingrown toenails. You should always cut your nails straight across, and ensure they’re smooth and filed, with no splits or frayed edges left behind.

3. Pulling off the nails instead of trimming them

Much like a poor nail cutting technique, ‘ripping off’ your toenail can leave a sharp nail spicule down the side of the nail – often where you can’t see it. This is the most common cause of ingrown toenails we see in teenagers and pre-teens.

4. The shape of your nail

Whether the shape of your toenail has been dictated by genetics or from previous trauma, this can leave your nail in a rounded, involuted or curved shape that makes the nail more likely to pinch or grow down into the skin beneath, making you more vulnerable to ingrown toenails.

Is my ingrown toenail infected?

It’s not uncommon for ingrown toenails to become infected. This is because until they are treated, they have a permanent ‘opening’ where the nail has pierced the skin where bacteria and nasties can enter. Given the proximity of your feet to the ground – this magnifies your risk.

Having an infection puts you at risk of further complications and secondary infections, as well as increasing your inflammation and painful symptoms. If you have medical conditions like diabetes, where your ability to heal wounds and fight infection is impaired, it’s very important that you always see your podiatrist for management. 

How can you treat ingrown toenails?

There are two safe and effective ways of treating ingrown toenails that we use here at Marlborough Podiatry. The first is for those that are experiencing ingrown toenails for the first time, or where the cause of the ingrown toenails is one that means that the problem is unlikely to recur. This is where we use our podiatric instruments to make a clean cut down the side of the nail to remove the offending nail edge. We always try to make this as comfortable for you as possible, and once the nail spicule is removed, the skin can heal, the swelling can go down, and your pain will reduce over the next few days.

The second and our most common treatment is a procedure called a partial nail avulsion. This is a permanent solution for ingrown toenails, making it the best choice for those that have had multiple ingrown toenails or the cause is unable to be effectively managed and hence the problem is likely to continue to recur. This involves numbing the toe using local anaesthetic and removing a small portion of the nail where it tends to grow in. A chemical is then applied to the base of the nail, where the nail growing cells are located and produce new nail. These cells are destroyed, which prevents the problematic nail edge from growing back and leaving you with a smooth and straight nail edge. 

Can ingrown toenails be prevented?

Preventing ingrown toenails from coming back or developing in the first place can be done by avoiding the common causes of ingrown toenails. This includes:

  • Wearing shoes that don’t cramp your toes or have a narrow forefoot
  • Always trimming your toenails using the right tools and not picking at the nails
  • Cutting your nails straight across and not rounding your edges
  • Treating ingrown toenails when any pain or discomfort first starts. This may be at the stage where the nail is pushing against the skin but hasn’t yet penetrated it, meaning that the nail is easier to treat and you haven’t yet become vulnerable to infection

Need help with problematic toenails?

Our team of experienced podiatrists are here to help. We’ll examine your toenails, check for infection, and then discuss your treatment options to help determine which is best for you.

Book your appointment online here or call us on (03) 972 2927

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