The Ins and Outs (But Mostly Ins!) of Ingrown Toenails
Ingrown toenails are a very common problem, and there’s a big reason for this – anyone who has toenails could potentially be affected!
Some medical conditions might tend to be more commonly seen within certain demographics—Achilles tendinitis for middle-aged men, bunions for women, osteoarthritis for seniors, etc.—but that is simply not the case when we talk about ingrown toenails.
Two-month old infants can actually have this particular condition, as can men and women who cross the century mark of life.
In fact, out of all the different ways humans can be divided (age, race, gender, etc.), pretty much the only group that isn’t at risk are “those who don’t have toenails.” So pretty much everyone else can potentially experience this problem at some point.
When a nail does become ingrown, it can be a rather painful ordeal. And as the toenail grows into the skin flanking it, the soft tissue can become irritated, red, and inflamed.
Further, an ingrown nail can place someone at risk for various infections (actually, a significant number of fungal toenails begin this way). If the skin is pierced at all, bacteria can enter the wound and infect it. Sometimes pockets of pus form, causing even more pressure and pain – but this tends to be rare and is only applicable for more severe cases.
If you are diabetic, an ingrown toenail is a very serious issue.
(Of course, anything out of the ordinary can become a huge problem when diabetes is in the picture!)
Infections are bad enough for otherwise healthy individuals, but they’re downright dangerous for those who are living with diabetes. This is one of the reasons you should visit our office for nail trimming services. We will clip them properly to reduce your risk for ingrowing, while also being careful not to cause any damage during the cutting process.
No matter if you have diabetes or not, if you have a toenail that has become ingrown, you’re going to want the problem resolved.
Depending on your particular situation, this might be handled in a very conservative manner. In a best-case scenario, an ingrown toenail can be treated by simply soaking the affected foot, lifting the ingrown edge over the skin flanking the nail, and then taking measure to prevent it from becoming ingrown. To reduce infection risk, follow these initial steps by using topical cream or ointment.
Over-the-counter pain relievers are often effective for reducing painful symptoms in mild-to-moderate cases.
As with just about anything in life, however, “best-case scenarios” don’t always happen. If they did, there’d be no need for the “best-case” label!
Sometimes, more aggressive treatment is necessary.
Typically, surgery for an ingrown toenail is only needed for conditions that are recurrent and/or causing severe pain.
Between the two issues, it’s more likely we recommend surgery to resolve a recurrent case. The reason for this is simply that the unusually-curved structure will inherently cause the nail to continually become ingrown.
It might sound as though removing a toenail will be painful, but this is not something you would need to worry about. Anesthesia is used to numb the area prior to the procedure.
Following the toenail removal, we may perform a procedure to keep it from growing back. We don’t want you to keep dealing with the same pain and discomfort over and over again, so we can perform a procedure to render the nail matrix—which generates new nail tissue—inoperable on a permanent basis.
After your surgery, the nail will be covered with antibacterial ointment and gauze. It is imperative that you follow all post-operative instructions, including how to keep the wound clean, in order to minimize the risk for an infection to set.
It’s important to understand what to expect both during the procedure and during the healing period. A toenail removal is done on an outpatient basis, meaning you may leave the same day. You should be prepared to have someone drive you to and from the appointment. You will probably be able to put pressure on your feet, but it may be uncomfortable for a bit.
Naturally, preventing ingrown toenails is always preferable to needing treatment for them, especially when doing so may require the nail to be removed. As such, here are some tips to help you prevent this issue:
- Keep your toenails at a proper length. The ideal length when cutting your nails is the edge of your toe. Cutting them too short may result in pressure from your footwear directing a nail to grow into surrounding tissue.
- Clip the nails straight across. Instead of rounding off your toenails when you clip them, use a straight cut. This will prevent your nails from digging into the sides as they grow.
- Choose properly-fitting shoes. Wearing shoes that fit your feet correctly can head off a long list of potential foot problems, and this includes ingrown nails. Footwear that pinches your toes or places too much pressure on them increases your risk of an ingrown nail, so opt for comfortable models that have plenty of room in the toe area.
- Protect your feet at work. If you work in a job where you have a heightened risk of injuring a toe, be sure to wear steel-toed shoes or other forms of protective footwear.
- Don’t hesitate to ask for help. Need to move something heavy at home? Don’t try to do it by yourself. Instead, recruit a loved one, friend, or neighbor to help. Not only will this lower your risk of dropping the object and developing an ingrown nail, it can also possibly save your back!
As we noted earlier, ingrown toenails can become major issues for those who live with diabetes. If you have this disease, make sure you include checking for them as part of your daily foot inspection.
Should you develop severe pain, pus, or redness that spreads, give our office a call and set up an appointment with us as soon as you can. Additionally, as previously mentioned, if you have diabetes and realize any toenail has become ingrown, contact us immediately as well.
For more information on your ingrown toenail treatment options at Heartland Foot and Ankle Associates, or to request an appointment with our Bloomington, IL podiatrist office for professional care, simply give us a call at (309) 661-9975 or connect with us online right now!