Ingrowing toenails can be extremely painful, causing redness, swelling and infection. In the most severe cases, an operation which removes all or part of the affected nail may be needed to help clear the infection and relieve pain. This should be a last resort, as complications including chronic pain can follow the procedure. Many ingrowing toenails can be avoided or treated by following some really simple advice.
An ingrowing toenail occurs when the corner of a growing nail (usually on the big toe) ‘digs in’ to the skin of the corner of the toe, breaking the skin and causing pain as it grows. The damaged skin is then more susceptible to infection, particularly if the area is moist and warm – conditions which bacteria love! This goes some way to explain why ingrowing toenails are more frequent in adolescents, whose feet can be sweaty and may be enclosed in trainers for much of the day.
Preventing this painful condition can be pretty straightforward. Firstly, avoid or reduce time in hot, sweaty shoes – especially if they are tight fitting. Secondly, and perhaps most crucially, take care over cutting toenails. The corner of the toenail should be left ‘square’, with the tip jutting just beyond the skin. Toenails shouldn’t be ‘rounded’ at the corners, as this means the growing area will dig into the skin as it advances. If a toenail starts to become red and sore, soak it in warm water and gently push the skin away from the nail. This can help prevent the problem progressing.
If these measures fail, and especially if there are other medical conditions such as diabetes or problems with immunity, then medical help should be sought. However, using these simple tips should help avoid most problems with ingrowing toenails.