The Ins and Outs of Ingrown Toenails

Your nails—both on your fingers and your toes—don’t have nerves running through them. This is a good thing because clipping them would be painful if they did!Close up of a person cutting their toenails

It doesn’t hurt to clip your toenails, so why is there pain when they become ingrown? Well, because it’s not the nail itself that hurts. The pain is actually a signal from the soft tissue the toenail has grown into – a way of letting the brain know there’s a problem.

For those who have diabetes, and might not be able to feel that pain, an ingrown toenail can be a rather concerning matter.

One of the systemic problems from diabetes is nerve damage (neuropathy) that can take away your ability to feel pain. Furthermore, another systemic issue caused by diabetes is an impaired immune system, which is normally the body’s defense against infections.

Without knowing about the opening into the body caused by the ingrown nail, your infection risk is heightened. Given the impaired functionality of the immune system, the area can become gangrenous if left untreated for an extended period of time. (This highlights the importance of having a comprehensive diabetic foot care plan and performing a daily foot inspection!)

Whereas pain is a key warning sign of an ingrown toenail, it’s not the only one – skin flanking the nail can become reddened and swollen.

In the event that you notice pus or redness that spreads, or are having severe pain in the area, call and schedule the earliest possible appointment with our office. We will provide the professional treatment you need.

There are several causes for ingrown toenails, including:

  • Inherited structure – Nails that are unusually curved are more likely to become ingrown than those that feature a more typical shape. Additionally, this is typically the root cause of toenails that continually become ingrown.
  • Physical trauma – Dropping something heavy onto your foot increases your risk of developing this problem.
  • Ill-fitting footwear – Footwear that is too tight crowds the toes together, which makes it more likely that ingrowing will take place.
  • Improper nail trimming – Patients who trim their nails too short or excessively round them off have a greater risk of this condition.

As long as you are not diabetic, you may want to try at-home care before coming in to see us. If so, use the following steps:

  • Soak your feet for 15-20 minutes in warm water to soften the nail tissue
  • After soaking, gently lift the ingrown part of the nail and place fresh bits of waxed dental floss under the edge (to encourage the nail to grow over, and not into, the skin)
  • Apply antibiotic cream or ointment on the tender area and then bandage the affected toe properly

When home treatment is insufficient—or if you are diabetic, have severe pain, or the nail continues to become ingrown—professional treatment options include lifting the nail, partial nail removal and, for severe or recurrent cases, even permanent removal of the troublesome nail.

Prevention is better than having to treat a condition, especially when the preventive measures are relatively easy and straightforward. For ingrown nails, this entails:

  • Proper nail trimming – Always clip your nails straight across, instead of rounding them off, and keep them even with the edge of the toes.
  • Footwear that fits – When buying shoes for yourself or loved ones, make sure they are not tight in the front and have enough room that toes can wiggle freely.
  • Protect your feet – If your job requires frequently moving heavy items, invest in a pair of safety shoes or steel-tipped work boots.

If you require professional care for a problem case of ingrown toenails, our team at Sunshein Podiatry is here for you. Simply give us a call at (937) 435-7477. One of our team members will be happy to answer any questions and help you schedule an appointment with us.

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