Ingrown toenails occur when the nail burrows into the skin on the toe, or the skin grows over the edge of the nail. This can happen on any toe, but most often the big toe.

At Monroe Foot & Ankle Care, board-certified podiatrist Dr. Elliott Perel and our team understand that a lot of people don’t give much thought to ingrown toenails. Many hope the nail will simply heal on its own or miss the warning signs completely. That’s why we’ve put together this guide to help you spot when there’s a problem. With early treatment or preventive techniques, you can rid yourself of the problem completely.

The early warning signs of ingrown toenails

Ingrown toenails produce a number of signs that indicate a problem.

As the nail grows into the skin on the toe, it causes pain at the corner of the nail plate. This is usually followed by inflammation, redness, and swelling at the site of penetration.

The inflammation opens the door for a skin infection to develop. When this happens, the toe can leak blood, pus, or both from the corner of the nail.

New skin called granulation tissue develops and grows over the open infection, perpetuating and worsening it. Left untreated, the infection can spread to other areas of the foot.

What causes an ingrown toenail?

Ingrown toenails may result from a variety of different causes:

  • Cutting nails too short (below the toe edge)
  • Rounding nail edges instead of cutting straight across
  • Wearing tight shoes and/or socks that force the nail into the toe
  • Actively stressing your toes, such as running long distances, playing soccer, or doing ballet
  • Having a family history

Understanding the need for proper foot hygiene can prevent nails from becoming ingrown.

How can I treat ingrown toenails?

If you spot the warning signs of an ingrown nail, you can try at-home remedies to see if they prevent an infection:

  • Bathe toe in mix of warm water and Epsom salts for 15-20 minutes, 3-4 times a day
  • Wear breathable shoes; dampness encourages infection
  • Wear shoes with a wide toe box; avoid high heels
  • Take OTC pain relievers and anti-inflammatories as needed
  • Apply topical antibiotic cream and cover with a bandage

If you don’t see an improvement in 2-3 days, or if you see pus oozing from the nail, make an appointment with Dr. Perel.

When ingrown toenails need medical attention

Some ingrown toenails can heal by themselves, but many don’t, even with your best efforts. If your toe is painful, red, and swollen, especially if it oozes pus, it needs to be treated by a physician.

Dr. Perel prescribes oral or topical antibiotics to address the infection, and depending on the severity of the ingrowth, he may need to partially or completely remove the nail (nail avulsion). If your case is severe, he may also remove part of the underlying nail bed and growth center.

Surgical nail removal prevents the new nail that comes in from growing inward. If you have chronic or recurrent, infected ingrown toenails, Dr. Perel may need to permanently remove the nail.

The UK National Health Service has shown that partial nail avulsion is 98% successful in preventing future ingrown toenails.

Is your toenail digging into your toe and causing painful symptoms? Then it’s time to come into Monroe Foot & Ankle Care for treatment and tips on how to prevent a recurrence. To get started, give our Jamesburg, New Jersey office a call at 732-978-9569, or book online with us today.

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