The job of a toenail seems so easy: grow, protect, get clipped, repeat. Sometimes, however, the direction of toenail growth gets skewed off course, and a corner or side will begin digging into the surrounding flesh. Ingrown nails are a common source of toe pain that often respond well to treatment, but there are some potential complications to watch out for.
When Toenails Take a Detour
So what causes a toenail to grow in any other direction than straight out? Some people’s nails are just curved differently by nature, or the shape of their bone structure makes them more likely to experience ingrown nails. If it runs in your family, your ingrown toenails may be hereditary. A fungal infection can also cause thickening or widening of a nail, making it more likely to dig into the skin.
Other causes of ingrown toenails are more directly related to our activities and choices. Wearing tight shoes or high heels will often squeeze the toes together, forcing the nails to grow off course. Injury to a nail or any sort of repetitive striking against it (such as from running or playing soccer) can also increase the chances of it becoming ingrown. How we trim our toenails can also have an impact on how they grow. If cut too short or not straight across, a nail’s corners become more likely to poke into your toe.
Road Signs to Trouble
In addition to toe pain, an ingrown toenail may also cause redness, tenderness, and swelling along one or both sides of the nail. The outer edge of the big toe is the most common location for the condition. Sometimes there may be a yellowish drainage from the site. This is usually a natural response to the irritation caused by the nail.
Infection of an ingrown nail is not very common, but it is important to watch for the signs. See Dr. Peter Tsang as soon as possible if your toe pain becomes severe, swelling grows worse, redness seems to spread around the site, or more white or yellow pus begins to drain from the area. You might also develop a fever. If you have diabetes or an increased risk of infection, you should have all cases of ingrown nails evaluated to help prevent complications.
Getting Back on Route
If there are no signs of infection, treatment for an ingrown toenail will often involve carefully lifting the ingrown section away from the skin. Soaking your toes in warm water for 15 to 20 minutes up to four times per day will help reduce swelling and pain. If so desired, you may add Epsom salt or Betadine solution to the water to help fight the possible infection.
In more severe cases, the ingrown part of the nail may be medically trimmed or removed. If extra tissue has grown around the affected area, this may also be removed to encourage faster healing. An antibiotic medication might additionally be prescribed to help prevent infection.
If you suffer from frequent ingrown nails or have one that isn’t seeing improvement after a few days, don’t wait. Let Dr. Peter Tsang at Prairie Path Podiatry evaluate you for infection, treat your toe pain, and help you determine the best path toward keeping your nails growing straight and true. Schedule an appointment with our Geneva, IL, office by calling (630) 845-3338 or using our online form.