What Causes Ingrown Toenails And How To Treat The Condition

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An ingrown toenail can be extremely painful, especially if you need to wear shoes to go to work each day. The pain generally lasts a long time too since you need to wait for the tip of your nail to grow out to correct the situation. If your nail is painful, infected, or interfering with your ability to walk or work, then you should see a podiatrist. Here's a look at why ingrown toenails happen and how a podiatrist can help:

What Causes Ingrown Toenails

One main cause of an ingrown nail is improper technique when trimming the nail. Toenails should be cut straight across so the sides of the nails are above the skin line. Curving the nail down at the sides or ripping the nail off rather than clipping it causes the tip of the nail to be lower than the top of the skin. Then the nail burrows into the skin as it begins to grow out. This is what causes pain and infection. An ingrown nail can also be caused by wearing shoes or socks that crowd your toes. It could even be caused by an injury such as when you stub your toe.

How To Care For Your Ingrown Nail

Try soaking your toe a few times a day in warm water to help with pain and swelling. Soaking also helps the skin and nail stay flexible, so that you can pull the nail out of the skin. If you can move the nail, lift it slightly and insert a small piece of gauze under the corner. This lifts the nail away from the skin so it grows out over it instead of burrowing into it. You'll need to care for your toe daily for as long as it takes for the nail to grow out. During that time, wear roomy socks and shoes with wide toes so your nail is not crowded.

How A Podiatrist Can Help

If your toe becomes swollen, red, or if it weeps fluid, you should see a podiatrist because these are signs of infection. Ingrown toenails don't always become infected, but you want to seek medical help rather than treat the infection at home. A podiatrist can help your condition whether the nail is infected or not. He or she might place a splint under the nail that keeps it pulled away from the nail bed as it grows out.

Surgery might also be considered. This could involve cutting out a portion of the nail so it can grow out without digging into your skin. If you have a problem with frequent ingrown nails due to the structure of your toe or nail, the podiatrist might consider removing or destroying the root of your nail. When that's done, the nail doesn't grow back so your problem with ingrown nails is permanently solved. If you need surgery, it is done in the podiatrist's office with a local anesthetic so you can go home right afterward. You'll need to protect your toe while it heals and keep it covered with a bandage.

It's not always possible to prevent ingrown toenails from happening, but one thing you can do to reduce the risk of getting one is to be careful about the way you trim your nails. Also, if you have diabetes or another condition that impairs circulation or feeling in your feet, seek medical treatment from a podiatrist at the first sign of an ingrown toenail so you can prevent an infection that could turn into a serious medical problem.