What is an ingrown toenail

An ingrown toenail occurs when the nail grows into the skin, causing pain and often infection. An ingrown can affect any toenail, but more often than not it will be the big toe. Anyone can get an ingrown toenail, but there are a variety of factors that may put you at risk which will be explored further in this blog. While it may seem like the best option to cut your own nail to relieve pain, this may make your condition worse, so best to visit your Podiatrist for treatment immediately.

How will I know if I have an ingrown toenail?

The signs and symptoms of ingrown toenails can and generally tend to vary from person to person, but it is likely that you will notice pressure or pain, redness, swelling and pus. If you have any of these signs or symptoms make sure you seek professional health advice as soon as possible. Your Podiatrist can guide you as to whether you require antibiotics and ongoing treatment to resolve your ingrown. 

What Causes an Ingrown Toenail

There are many causes of an ingrown toenail, these include;

  • Cutting technique – Your podiatrist will encourage you to cut straight across your toenail, as cutting down the edges of the nail may cause a spike or encourage the nail to grow into the skin. If there is a break in the skin you are at risk of infection. 
  • Genetics – Unfortunately your genetics can be a factor in development of an ingrown nail. If your parents have experienced ingrown nails it is likely that you too, will get them at some stage. A wide, curved nail is also a genetic risk factor. 
  • Trauma (or injury to the nail), for example, stubbing the toe, dropping something on it, being stepped on – if the nail has been damaged it may change the way the nail grows in the future. 
  • Footwear choices – If footwear worn is too small or narrow it may influence the way the nail grows and cause it to change direction and go into the skin. 
  • Poor circulation – People who have compromised circulation may be more susceptible to developing an ingrown toenail. 

How To Improve an ingrown toenail at home

It is recommended that you seek professional advice if you think you may have an ingrown toenail or any of the discussed signs of infection (redness, swelling, pus or pain), however, if this cannot be done straight away there are some things you can do to improve your ingrown;

  • DO NOT touch it – This is a great way to spread bacteria.
  • Salt water bathing – Soak your toe for 5 mins in warm water with 1x tablespoon of regular table salt, this will discourage infection of the affected area. This method is NOT interchangeable with soaking in the ocean. The ocean contains a large variety of bacteria that will increase the risk of infection. 
  • Re-dressing daily – You can further reduce your chances of infection by re-dressing the toe with betadine and a bandaid each day. You can apply any antibacterial ointment you have at home.
  • Wear open-toed footwear – Taking any unnecessary pressure off the toe may decrease pain levels and encourage healing. 
  • Taking medication or over the counter pain relievers may help if you are in pain. These include panadol (paracetamol) or Ibuprofen if there is swelling. Be aware that all medication can have side effects if taken inappropriately. 

An ingrown toenail can become very serious, very quickly. If the nail is infected, you may require antibiotics. It is always recommended that you seek professional advice as soon as possible.

Diabetes and ingrown toenails

If you have Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes you may be at risk of complications, so it is advised that you seek professional advice immediately if you think you may have an ingrown toenail. Diabetics are at risk of complications due to their susceptibility to;

  • Nerve damage – If blood glucose levels are not well controlled diabetics can experience extensive nerve damage, which means they may not be able to feel sensation or pain in the feet. If this is the case an ingrown toenail can escalate very quickly.
  • Poor circulation – uncontrolled blood glucose levels can also affect the blood vessels in the feet and toes. The vessels can become calcified (hardened) which can stop or compromise oxygenated blood flow and therefore healing capacity to the ingrown toenail.

 How can you prevent ingrown toenails

Prevention of ingrown nails can be a challenge, but here are our top tips for keeping those painful ingrown nails at bay;

  • Do not tear, bite or rip your nails – If you are unable to cut them yourself be sure to book with us for regular, professional nail maintenance
  • Make sure you are wearing well fitted shoes
  • Do not cut your nails down the edges, no matter how tempting this may be! Try to cut straight across the 
  • Do not touch your nails – As mentioned previously, this is a great way to spread infection.

What To Do If You Can’t Fix and ingrown toenail at home

We would always recommend that you visit your podiatrist immediately if you notice any of the previously mentioned symptoms. Your Podiatrist will likely attempt to manage your ingrown nail(s) conservatively first – This usually requires resection of your nail simply using nail clippers and a small blade. Once the offending portion of the nail has been removed, the area will be cleansed with saline and re-dressed with betadine and some sterile dressings. Usually, this can be done without too much pain and discomfort, however, a local anesthetic may be used. 

Following your initial appointment you will see your Podiatrist in about 1 week to ensure the toe is healing well. 

How to fix an ingrown toenail permanently

Unfortunately an ingrown toenail does often come back, depending upon the cause. If the nail edge is a repeat offender, your Podiatrist may encourage you to go ahead with a Partial Nail Avulsion Surgery or a PNA. This surgery can be done in our clinics and usually only takes 1 hour. 

The process is as follows;

  • You will be given a local anesthetic in the offending toe to numb the area. This is mildly uncomfortable, but is the worst part of the entire procedure.
  • Your very skilled Podiatrist will remove the offending nail with a small blade.
  • A chemical is used on the base of the nail bed to stop the nail from growing back – You won’t feel this at all!
  • Your toe will be dressed with a sterile dressing which is typically left on for about 3 – 5 days.

Following your PNA we usually recommend that you rest the next day (take the day off work/school) and we review the toe in 3-5 days where it will be re-dressed for the first time. It will also be recommended that you wear open-toed shoes for a few days following your procedure. 

The PNA is a very simple and very successful procedure. All of our Podiatrists at Foot Centre Group are experts when it comes to managing your ingrown toenail where it be a long term or short term solution.

Do you have questions? Or perhaps you are ready to book? Jump online at www.footcentregroup.com.au or call us on 03 9553 0044 to book your appointment. 

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