Ingrown toenails can occur on any toe, but they’re most common on the big toe. They develop for one of two reasons:

  • The nail burrows into the surrounding skin
  • The skin grows over the nail, on one side, or both

The end result is a painful, hard, red swelling at the nail’s corner, which may be followed by an infection. You can tell it’s infected if pus oozes out from the cut.

Board-certified podiatrist Dr. Elliott Perel and his staff at Monroe Foot & Ankle Care, serving patients in the Monroe Township, New Jersey area, understands that a lot of people don’t think a lot about caring for their feet, and that extends to ingrown toenails. They think if they ignore the problem, the nail will simply heal on its own. Is this really the case? Here’s what our podiatric expert has to say.

How do ingrown toenails develop?

A developing ingrown toenail progresses in three stages:

  • Nail first digs into the tissue, causing pain at the corner of the nail plate, and inflammation and swelling of the toe
  • Inflammation often leads to skin infection, and the toe may leak blood, pus, or both
  • Granulation tissue, new skin that grows over the open infection, perpetuates and worsens the infection

This process may result from a number of different causes:

  • Cutting nails below toe edge
  • Rounding nail edges instead of cutting straight across
  • Wearing tight shoes and/or socks that push the nail into the toe
  • Repeatedly stressing your toes, such as playing soccer, running, or doing ballet
  • Having genes that predispose you to it

Taking proper care of your feet can prevent nails from becoming ingrown.

Will my ingrown toenail heal on its own?

If you notice your toenail is becoming ingrown, you can start with at-home remedies to see if they’ll prevent an infection. You can:

  • Soak toe in warm water and Epsom salts 15-20 minutes, 3-4 times a day to draw out inflammation
  • Wear shoes that let feet breathe and don’t become damp
  • Wear shoes with wide toe box
  • Don’t wear high heels
  • Take OTC pain relievers and anti-inflammatories
  • Apply antibiotic cream and cover with bandage

However, if you don’t see an improvement in 2-3 days, or if the toe becomes infected, make an appointment to see Dr. Perel.

Why you may need medical attention

Not all ingrown toenails heal by themselves, even with your best efforts. If your toe is swollen, hurts, has excessive inflammation, and oozes pus, it needs to be treated by a physician.

Dr. Perel may prescribe oral or topical antibiotics to address the infection, and he may need to partially or completely remove the nail (nail avulsion). In severe cases, he may also have to remove part of the underlying nail bed and even a part of the growth center.

Surgical nail removal prevents the nail edge from growing inward again and cutting into the adjoining skin. Permanent toenail removal may be required for those with chronic or recurrent, infected ingrown toenails.

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

If you’re struggling with an ingrown toenail, you can try at-home remedies, but you’re better served by seeing a professional like Dr. Perel to address all aspects of the problem. To schedule an appointment, call Monroe Foot & Ankle Care at 732-521-6166, or book your visit online.

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