An ingrown toenail (onychocryptosis) happens when part of the nail pierces the skin, often leading to an infection.
The severity of the appearance of an ingrown toenail will vary. Usually the side of the nail penetrates and it is difficult to see the edge of the nail. In some, the corner or a small spike of nail may penetrate the skin. This can result in an infection and the toe will then be red, inflamed and painful.
Poor nail trimming is often blamed for causing ingrown toenails, but there are several other factors involved:
- The shape of the nail – a curved nail is more likely become ingrown than a flat one. The shape of the nail is usually inherited, but it can be influenced by trauma and/or shoe pressure
- Improper nail trimming – rimming or tearing down the sides can cause an ingrown toenail
- Leaving a sharp corner also puts pressure on the skin
- Shoe pressure – tight footwear is more likely to increase pressure between the skin in the nail fold and nail
- Trauma – this may alter the shape of the nail
- Pressure from the toe next to the nail that has ingrown
- A plump toe and those whose feet swell are more susceptible to ingrown toenails.
Pain is the main symptom of an ingrown toenail, usually starting as minor discomfort and increasing to pain. The toe is not necessarily infected, but this can develop after the nail penetrates the skin to become ingrown. The infection can spread, making the toe red and inflamed (paronychia). Pus may also develop and large growths of skin can develop if it is left too long.
Prevention is better than cure!
You can take some steps to help prevent the occurrence of ingrown toenails:
- Cut the toenails to the shape of the toe. This can be difficult if the nail is very curved down the side. In this case DO NOT dig down the sides – seek help from your Podiatrist
- It is a myth that a V should be cut in the end of the nail to treat an ingrown toe nail
- The shape of the nail is determined by the growing area at the base of the toe, not the end
- Avoid wearing shoes and socks that are too tight
- Keep feet clean to prevent the ingrown nail from becoming infected
- Those with poor circulation or diabetes should not do any self-management of ingrown toenails but see a Podiatrist.
When to see Foot Matters Podiatry
Regular treatment by a Podiatrist can often be needed as a conservative approach to prevent the nail becoming a problem. A Podiatrist may:
- Remove the piece of nail that has penetrated the skin
- Culture the nail
- Recommend appropriate medications
- Perform surgical correction of the nail when indicated
Podiatrists have an important role to play in preventing and managing foot problems. Prompt action is important. Problems which are left without assessment or treatment may result in major health risks.