Summer Fun in RecoveryPesky, painful, and stubborn, ingrown toenails can be a real nuisance and interfere with everyday life. An ingrown toenail occurs when the edge of a toenail starts to grow into the skin, irritating the area and making it difficult to wear shoes or walk without pain. Though they might seem like a temporary inconvenience that will clear up on their own, ingrown nails can quickly become a major problem if left untreated.

But what causes an ingrown toenail, and how can you prevent them? Perhaps more importantly, how can you treat them? Here's everything you need to know about ingrown toenails:

What Causes Ingrown Toenails?

There are many ways that an ingrown nail might develop, including:

  • Improper nail trimming: Perhaps the most common cause, when a toenail is not cut correctly, the nail edge may curve downward and dig into the surrounding skin as the toenail grows. This most often affects the big toe, but it can happen to any toe.
  • Ill-fitting shoes: Another common cause of ingrown toenails is wearing tight-fitting shoes that compress the toes and force the nail edge into the skin. Over time, this constant pressure can lead to the development of an ingrown nail. 
  • Nail injuries: Nail injuries, such as stubbing your toe or dropping a heavy object on your foot, can also cause ingrown toenails. These types of trauma can damage the nail, causing it to grow irregularly. If you suspect that a nail injury may have caused your ingrown toenail, consult your podiatrist for an evaluation and appropriate treatment recommendations.
  • Genetics: Genetic factors such as the natural shape of your toenails or the curvature of your nail bed can influence how your toenail grows and whether it is more likely to become ingrown.

Signs and Symptoms

As the nail begins to dig its way into the surrounding skin, ingrown toenails often begin with mild discomfort and gradually progress into a more painful and bothersome condition. Early signs include redness, tenderness, and swelling around the affected nail edge. As the toenail continues to grow, you may experience worsening pain, particularly when wearing shoes or applying pressure to the toe. The skin around the ingrown nail may also become hard, making it difficult to trim the nail properly.

In some cases, an ingrown toenail can become infected, leading to more severe symptoms. An infected ingrown toenail might be red and swollen, and you may notice pus or discharge around the nail. The skin surrounding the nail may also feel warm to the touch, and in more serious cases, the infection can cause fever or chills.

If you suspect you have an ingrown toenail infection, reach out to Northern Illinois Foot & Ankle Specialists to prevent further complications and receive appropriate treatment.

Home Remedies and Prevention

Fortunately, there are several strategies you can use to avoid ingrown toenails. First and foremost, it's crucial to trim your toenails using the correct technique. Use a sharp nail trimmer to cut your nails straight across, avoiding any rounding or angling of the corners. By cutting toenails straight across, you can help prevent the nail from growing into the surrounding skin and prevent ingrown toenails.

It's also important to wear shoes that fit. Make sure your shoes have a wide toe box that allows your toes to move freely without pressure or rubbing, and avoid wearing shoes that are too tight or have a narrow, pointed-toe design. Because of the way they pinch and cause pressure on your toes, these kinds of shoes can increase your risk of ingrown toenails.

If you already have an ingrown nail, there are a few home remedies that may help relieve your discomfort, soaking your feet in warm water with Epsom salt. This can help reduce swelling, soften the skin around the nail, and promote healing. After soaking, you may also try gently lifting the ingrown nail edge using a piece of dental floss, but be cautious not to cause further irritation or injury. When in doubt, talk to your podiatrist.

You can also use over-the-counter pain relievers, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen, to help alleviate the pain and inflammation. However, keep in mind that home remedies are not always enough to fully treat an ingrown nail.

When to See a Podiatrist

Though ingrown toenails can sometimes be managed at home, there are certain situations where seeking professional ingrown toenail treatment from a foot specialist is necessary. If you're experiencing persistent pain, worsening symptoms, or signs of infection, it's time to consult the experts at Northern Illinois Foot & Ankle Specialists.

Additionally, individuals with diabetes or other conditions that affect circulation should also seek prompt ingrown toenail treatment, as these conditions can increase the risk of complications and delay healing.
Some of the most common treatments include:

  • Partial Nail Removal: Also known as partial nail avulsion, this procedure involves removing the ingrown portion of the nail under local anesthesia to relieve pain and promote healing. Your podiatrist may also apply a chemical to the nail bed to prevent the ingrown nail from recurring.
  • Complete Nail Removal: In severe cases or when other treatments have failed, your podiatrist may recommend removing the entire nail. This procedure is performed under local anesthesia and may require several weeks for the nail to regrow fully.
  • Prescription Medications for Infection: If your ingrown toenail is infected, your podiatrist may prescribe antibiotics or antifungal medications to treat the infection and prevent further complications.
  • Preventive Care and Follow-Up Appointments: Your podiatrist can also provide guidance on proper foot care and preventive measures to avoid future ingrown toenails. Regular follow-up appointments may be recommended to monitor your progress and ensure that your toenails remain healthy.

At Northern Illinois Foot & Ankle Specialists, our board-certified podiatrists specialize in the effective treatment of ingrown toenails and other foot and ankle conditions. To get the care you need, contact us today to schedule an appointment. We look forward to seeing you!

Get the best podiatric care in Chicago, IL at Northern Illinois Foot & Ankle Specialists!Schedule your appointment online today; we look forward to seeing you!