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ngrown toenails are quite a nuisance. This is a condition when the nail becomes wider than the skin will tolerate. One edge or corner of a toenail — usually your big toe, although others can be affected — digs into the soft, fleshy neighboring skin.
That can be quite painful.
On top of that, you may experience tenderness, redness, and swelling in the affected toe. In some cases, an ingrown toenail can easily lead to infection of the surrounding tissues, including fungal toenail infections and buildup of pus.
While these symptoms can come and go as the skin accommodates the widening nail, the toenail will eventually be viewed as a foreign body — a literal version of a thorn in your side.
The good news, however, is that professional fixes (including permanent solutions for recurrent issues) tend to be simple and provide virtually immediate relief. Clearly, there’s no reason to keep struggling in silence!
What does an ingrown nail look like?
The skin, the largest organ of the body, is very forgiving and puts up with a lot of stuff. But just like parents can reach a limit when dealing with a teenager’s shenanigans, your skin can as well.
There are warning signs you should pay attention to long before you have a full ingrown toenail – the skin along the nail will swell and look puffy. Tissue hypertrophy is the body’s attempt to wall off the nail, preventing the nail from becoming a foreign body. Unfortunately, the nail always wins this battle.
What you don’t see
Normally the edge of the nail should be visible at the skin borders. With an ingrown nail there is a hidden surprise because the skin covers the extra wide nail. It will be difficult to see where the nail actually ends when it is too wide. It may appear like a normal nail but the “out of sight” nail can be an additional 50% larger.
What causes ingrown toenails? Can you prevent them?
Unfortunately, there isn’t always an obvious cause for a case of ingrown toenails, and some people seem to be naturally predisposed to getting them.
Having unusually curved toenails, for example, often translates to a higher risk. If you look at a nail from the end (looking towards the foot), the nail should be flat and parallel. If your nail has an “arch” shape and curves down, then unfortunately you’re more predisposed to having skin irritation, followed by an ingrown nail.
If you don’t take care of the issue quickly, the nails can form a complete circle (ouch!), and we call these “O” nails, and “O” stands for “Oh, that’s going to be a big problem!”
Physical trauma, Father Time, and fungal involvement can also make the nail grow wider.
What does not cause an ingrown nail?
Never say never – shoes are rarely the cause, but aggressive shoes that pinch the toe will definitely make the issue worse.
If you have a toe that is inflamed, give it some space. Roomy athletic shoes, Crocs, or even sandals will help lessen symptoms for a while, but remember, this won’t solve the actual issue.
How not to treat ingrown nails
We’ve heard – and seen – some home remedies and recommendations from grandma. After seeing so many, we can safely say most will get you into trouble.
One common thought is to visit your local pharmacy and get an OTC product. Most of these won’t actually fix the issue, which helps either desensitize the skin around the nail or will make your skin hard like armor. Regardless, you didn’t solve the issue, which is the nail digging into the skin.
Cutting a “V” in the toenail
Another common myth we hear about is cutting a “V” in the toenail. This doesn’t do anything. A fair comparison: imagine you have a door that’s too big for the door frame. Cutting a “V” in the middle won’t help that door fit. You won’t be solving anything with this method.
Cotton under the nail
This adds more bulk to a place that already has too much there. Additionally, cotton can help promote bacterial growth, which increases your chance of infection.
This needs to stay in your mouth. Having to use dental floss for anything involved in an ingrown toenail will just cause more pain and damage. Additionally, it still doesn’t solve the issue of an ingrown nail.
Can you treat an ingrown toenail at home?
There are a few things you CAN do, but will be more for symptom management. You really need to have a specialist handle the underlying issue, which is the larger ingrown nail.
You can round off sharp corners of the nail with a file or emery board. This will help give some mild or moderate pain relief for a short time, but it won’t solve the underlying issue. If you can’t even do this, especially due to pain, you should be scheduling an appointment immediately.
Another item – do NOT cut your toenails too deep into the corners. Don’t dig into the corners and perform “bathroom surgery” – we tend to see you in our office much sooner when you do. Since you are trying to dig into a corner, you may not see the nail spike left over – and now you literally have a sharp object digging into your toe. Your pain and swelling will increase even further.
In-office treatment is faster and easier along with faster recovery times. In fact, depending on the severity of the nail, you could be back to your old activity level the next day – just pain free! So leave the “bathroom surgery” for us.
What does ingrown toenail treatment look like?
Following a thorough evaluation at our office, we will select one of a few minor surgical procedures to fix this stubborn, painful problem.
If the problem is new and with minor complaints, the offending nail border will be removed.
If the ingrown toenail is a repeat offender, painful, or infected, we can remove the enlarged border of the nail along with the growth center (or nail matrix). We’re basically making it so the edge of the nail won’t grow back and cause any more issues, effectively preventing issues in the future.
If you’re worried about the procedure, please don’t be. We have ample experience and utilize local anesthesia during the procedure. Here’s what someone on Google had to say about their experience:
Dr. Leibovitz and his practice are great! The staff is very friendly and helpful!! I would definitely recommend visiting his office if you are in need of a great podiatrist. I had an ingrown toe nail and it was fixed up in less than 45 minutes and with no pain! I really was coming in expecting it to hurt a ton but the most I felt was a tiny pinch for 2 seconds. Dr. Leibovitz is so experienced and truly knows what he is doing. The office is clean and my experience was so easy.
Our biggest focus is treating the root problem while relieving your pain and helping you heal as fast as possible!
These procedures are all performed in our office. You’ll experience very little downtime while providing instant relief. Those who undergo the procedure are usually back to full activity within a day.
Conditions Ingrown Nails Are Worse With…
There are conditions that will put you at greater risk for infection. These include:
- Peripheral Arterial Disease (PAD)
- Sero Negative Arthritis
- Long time steroid use
- Among many others
Overall these are all conditions that cause a decreased vascular supply or hamper your immune system. If you have an ingrown nail and have one of the above conditions, it is imperative you call our office immediately for an appointment before you have an infection or the infection gets any worse.