What are toenails for anyway? Yes, they may have once offered protection for our ancestors, but now we protect our feet with shoes. Why do our bodies insist on keeping these things around?
The truth is: We don’t quite know why either. And though toenails may not seem particularly useful, the fact remains—we have toenails, and sometimes they can cause painful problems, like ingrown toenails.
When you have a nail that becomes ingrown, it is important to address it right away. Doing so will spare you a lot of discomfort and reduce your risk of developing an infection. Depending on your case, you might even be able to resolve the problem at home on your own. Otherwise, Dr. Cory Pilling can provide the treatment you need.
But first, let’s talk about what causes this problem and how to recognize when a toenail is getting “sidetracked.”
Why Ingrown Toenails Happen (and How to Recognize Them)
There are several common causes for nails that become ingrown, including:
- Inherited structure. This is the most common cause for ingrown toenails. Some people have naturally curved nails that will cause this problem. In these cases, the nail is more likely to become ingrown again and again, even after it has been treated.
- Physical trauma. A traumatic accident (like dropping something heavy onto the foot) can potentially cause an ingrown toenail to develop.
- Improper nail trimming. Some cases of ingrown toenails are caused by faulty nail trimming practices. Leaving the nail too long, cutting it too short, or rounding off the corners can cause the nail to grow back against the surrounding skin.
- Ill-fitting footwear. Shoes that don’t fit properly contribute to a variety of lower limb problems, including ingrown toenails. Excessively tight footwear can crowd the toes together and increase the risk of a nail becoming ingrown, for example.
Now, you may be wondering: How do I know if my toenail is becoming ingrown? Easy! If the side or corner of a nail is growing into the soft flesh that surrounds it and you are experiencing pain, swelling, redness, and even a potential infection in that area, then your toenail is likely veering in the wrong direction. Though this condition can technically happen to any of the toes, it is most likely to occur in the big toe.
In the event that you notice pus or redness that spreads, or if you are having severe pain in the area, it is important to make an appointment with our Canyon Foot + Ankle office for the professional treatment you need!
Getting Rid of Painful Ingrown Toenails
The best place to start with treating ingrown toenails is with home care, especially if the condition is mild or caught early. You may be able to find the relief you are seeking by using the following steps:
- Soak your feet for 15-20 minutes in warm water (you can add two teaspoons of Epsom salt, if you’d like) to soften the nail tissue. This can also relieve tenderness and reduce swelling.
- Apply antibiotic cream or ointment to the tender area, and then properly bandage the affected toe (to reduce the risk of infection).
- Wear shoes that don’t put pressure or rub the affected toe (open-toe sandals that are well-supported can be a great choice).
In the event home treatment does not work, it is time to seek professional treatment at our office. Depending on what your situation requires, we may need to simply lift the nail for you. However, in more severe cases or those that are recurrent, it may be necessary to remove either part or the entire toenail.
Measures may also be taken to make the solution permanent, by making it so that the nail matrix does not generate new nail tissue along the side (or sides) of the nail that continually become ingrown. The recurrence rate for ingrown toenails is extremely low after this procedure, even if you have struggled with several ingrown toenails in the past.
Preventing Ingrown Toenails
As is true with most health concerns, preventing the problem before it happens is the best thing you can do. And this is especially true when the steps are easy and straightforward!
For ingrown nails, this means:
- Protecting your feet from physical trauma. If your job requires frequently moving heavy items, invest in a pair of safety shoes or steel-tipped work boots.
- Wearing footwear that fits correctly. When buying shoes for yourself (or loved ones), make sure they aren’t too tight in the front and have enough room so your toes can wiggle freely.
- Trimming toenails properly. Clip them straight across and even with the edge of the toe. Don’t leave them too long or too short, and don’t round out the corners. Gently file them down if you’d like.
If you need professional care for ingrown toenails, simply give our office a call. We are conveniently located in:
- Twin Falls: (208) 733-0436
- Burley: (208) 678-2727
If you’d prefer, you can also connect with us by using our online contact form and one of our staff members will reach out to you.