You can trust us as podiatric experts on this one:
If you look down at your bare feet and see toenails, there’s a possibility any of them can become ingrown. (That said, big toes have the greatest risk, with little toes being the next-most likely.)
That might not seem like a particularly shocking observation – after all, it’s possible you could develop or sustain a decent percentage of all the numerous foot and ankle problems that exist. The reason we can say it so assuredly in this case, however, stems from the simple fact that ingrown toenails is a condition that doesn’t discriminate.
Some issues are more likely to happen to specific demographics, such as:
- Men and gout
- Women and bunions
- Toddlers and intoeing
- Seniors and osteoarthritis
But this isn’t the case when it comes to ingrown toenails. Virtually anyone could potentially have a nail become ingrown. (At least, anyone who has toenails.)
We treat patients of all ages and stages who come to us suffering from the pain and discomfort caused by this particular condition. Everyone from 2-month old babies to octogenarians (and beyond!) has at least a certain degree of risk. There are other causes, but all it takes is physical trauma for the problem to emerge.
Fortunately, ingrown toenails are treatable. We’ll cover that shortly, but let’s start with just about everyone’s preferred option – avoiding the problem in the first place.
Preventing Ingrown Toenails Like a Pro
As is the case with any medical issue, the best practice is to prevent ingrown toenails from developing.
Before we delve into measures you can take, it’s important to note that the root cause of some cases is simply a matter of genetic disposition. Put simply, sometimes the explanation for a toenail that has become ingrown is an unusually-curved structure. As you’re probably aware, there isn’t any way around genetics at this time.
With regards to causes you can do something about, we are looking at things like improper nail trimming practices and feet insufficiently protected against possible physical trauma (you’ll see what we mean by this in a second).
If you want to lower your risk of ingrown toenails (from non-genetic causes), you need to do things like:
- Clip your toenails the right way. When we noted that improper nail trimming practices is a possible cause, we’re talking about clipping toenails too short and/or rounding them off. To the second point, many people likely round toenails off for the simple fact that it’s what we generally do with fingernails. Plus, toes have a rounded contour and it might seem natural.
A better practice is to cut the nails straight across. As you do, aim to keep them roughly even with the front of their respective toes.
- Always wear shoes that fit properly. If you had a dollar for every lower limb problem that can be avoided by wearing correctly-fitting shoes, you’d have a lot of dollars. Okay, it’s difficult to quantify the exact amount, but shoes that don’t fit right lead to many issues – including this one.
If you want to lower your odds of having a toenail become ingrown, make sure the fronts of your shoes aren’t too tight. To that end, you should have about a thumb’s width of space between your longest toes and the front of the shoes. The tops of your shoes shouldn’t press down on your nails and you should be able to freely wiggle your toes.
- Protect your feet. When we mentioned “feet insufficiently protected against possible physical trauma” up there, this is what we were referencing. See, sometimes an ingrown toenail is caused by something heavy dropping or falling onto a foot.
Now, it’s difficult-to-impossible to prevent accidents from happening, but you should take measures to protect your feet if you are going to be in a situation where mishaps could easily occur. A great example of this is if you work in an environment where you have to move heavy objects on a frequent basis. In such cases, you should protect your feet with safety shoes or steel-toed work boots. (Make sure to combine this with the previous tip on “shoes that fit properly” for optimal foot safety!)
- Ask for help. Along with certain occupations and work-related tasks, another potential source of physical trauma is having something crush your foot when trying to move a heavy object at home. The easiest way to avoid this situation is to simply ask a friend or loved one for help.
Speaking of “asking for help,” you may need professional help if you are unable to prevent an ingrown toenail from developing.
Ingrown Toenail Treatment From a Pro
Before jumping into professional treatment, we need to start by saying that home care might be okay for mild cases, and particularly those caught in early stages (and when diabetes is not in the picture!).
When attempting this, the first step is to soak the affected foot. This will soften the ingrown nail and allow you to gently lift it over the skin. To keep it elevated, you may wish to use a bit of waxed (and clean!) dental floss and place it under the targeted nail edge. Afterwards, apply antibiotic cream or ointment and then cover with a bandage to lower your risk for infection.
You should come see us for professional care if any of the following are applicable:
- You are diabetic.
- You have a severely ingrown nail.
- You are reluctant to attempt handling it on your own.
- You have been unsuccessful in your own attempts.
- The same toenail becomes ingrown recurrently.
Depending on the nature of your situation, we have a couple of different possible options.
Catch the problem at an early enough stage—and there aren’t any signs of infection or severe pain—and we may simply need to trim the nail properly for you so it’s in a more comfortable position.
To relieve painful symptoms, we may either recommend or prescribe medication. Additionally, we will likely recommend a change in footwear, which may just be temporary.
In some severe cases, we may need to remove a portion of a nail. If so, you can probably expect the toenail to eventually grow out in a normal fashion over time. The reason we note this is because our next option—treatment for recurrent cases—is a bit different.
When the same toenail continually becomes ingrown and causes you pain and discomfort, while also raising your risk for infection, we may recommend removing the entire nail on a permanent basis.
For those cases, we anesthetize the area, remove the problem nail, and then use a chemical to render the nail matrix—part of the toe that usually is responsible for growing new nail tissue—inoperable.
Naturally, permanent nail removal is a significant decision, so we will thoroughly discuss everything it entails together so you will have the opportunity to ask any questions. Doing so can help you make an informed decision about which direction you would like to pursue.
For more information about this condition or the treatment options we offer, simply give our Upland, CA office a call today at (909) 920-0884 or connect with us online and we will be in touch with you shortly!