Ingrown toenails are a common problem. In fact, about twenty percent of people who see their family doctor about a foot problem actually have an ingrown toenail.
This condition occurs when a toenail grows into the soft flesh surrounding the nail, damaging and inflaming the tissue. It most often happens on the big toe, but sometimes other toes are affected.
Many people also experience the following symptoms:
It’s helpful to remember that these can also be symptoms of other foot conditions, such as cysts or debris trapped under the nail.
To get an accurate diagnosis, please immediately see a qualified foot and ankle specialist. If you wait, the pain could worsen, and you might develop a more severe infection – especially if you have diabetes, which can complicate foot issues.
Some situations that may cause the condition include the following:
Additionally, some people are at higher risk due to other factors:
If your feet sweat often, perspiration can soften the nail, allowing it to curve or press into the skin.
As a result, they might struggle to trim their toenails. If this happens, you may benefit from professional pedicures or having a family member help you.
One of the best things you can do to avoid ingrown toenails and many other foot problems is to wear shoes that fit correctly.
Don’t use the courtesy nylons the retailer offers when trying on shoes in a store. These are intended to keep the shoes clean, but they are very thin and often don’t give you a good idea of how the shoes will fit during your typical use.
Instead, wear the socks or hosiery you usually wear with your shoes.
Once you get the shoes on, press down on the toe with your finger. You should feel about half an inch of space between your toe and the end of the shoe.
If this seems correct, walk around and observe how your feet feel.
Can you wiggle your toes easily? If your toes seem crammed into the shoes and have little room to maneuver, try a bigger size or a different style of shoe with a wider toe box.
Athletic shoes should also be appropriately sized, and it’s worth investing in a good pair with cushioning and support where you need it. If you are running or kicking in your workout, ensure the shoe’s end is solid enough to provide some protection against injury.
You should also replace running or athletic shoes once a year or more often if you have very high use.
If you work in construction or another job with a risk of injury to your feet, wear appropriate steel-toed boots on the job site.
Once your Sandy podiatrist diagnoses an ingrown toenail, they will recommend a treatment plan based on your circumstances. Here are some of the treatment options your foot and ankle specialist may consider:
Finding a way to get the nail away from the skin is usually the first priority. In a nail lifting procedure, the foot doctor gently pulls the nail away from the flesh and “props” it up using a splint or piece of cotton to keep it above the skin.
This encourages the nail to grow away from the tissue and can correct the ingrown nail over several weeks. The podiatrist may use a solution called collodion to cement the cotton in place, but in some cases, you may need to soak the toe, remove the material, and replace it daily.
This is similar to lifting the nail, but the podiatrist uses tape to pull the nail away from the skin in this procedure. You may need to replace the tape regularly.
Also similar to nail lifting, this method employs a thin slit tube to prop the nail up.
The tube is fixed in position and remains under the nail until it has grown away from the inflamed tissue. It’s also very effective at relieving pain and inflammation from an ingrown nail.
If procedures to help the nail grow correctly fail, or your foot and ankle doctor doesn’t believe they are good options, they might suggest partial nail removal.
This method is often recommended if the toe is severely inflamed or infected. During the procedure, the podiatrist will numb your toe, then gently trim away the problematic portion of the nail, which will usually grow back within 2-4 months.
Sometimes patients have an issue with the same nail becoming ingrown and infected repeatedly. This may be due to the shape of the foot or toe.
If this is the case, even wearing well-fitting shoes might not prevent it. In this situation, your foot doctor might advise removing the problematic part of the nail and the tissue underneath it, preventing the nail from growing back in this area.
Again, the toe will be numb for the procedure, and the doctor may use a laser or other method to remove the nail and tissue.
After a nail removal procedure, your podiatrist will advise you on caring for the toe as it heals. They may recommend pain relievers, using a wet compress a few times a day, and resting with your foot elevated.
You should also avoid certain activities like swimming, using a hot tub, or sports that stress your toe, until the toe is better.
If you suffer from toe pain, please don’t wait for it to worsen. Contact the office of Dr. Elizabeth Auger, DPM, at 801-758-7052 for a consultation to learn your treatment options.
Dr. Auger has been practicing podiatry in Sandy for more than 24 years. She graduated from Temple University, then completed a medical residency in Salt Lake City, focusing on foot surgery and wound care.
A believer in the importance of whole-body health, Dr. Auger works to help patients keep moving with preventive care and prompt treatment of foot and ankle conditions. She is a member of The College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons and is Board Certified in Podiatric Medicine by The American Board of Lower Extremity Surgery.
Ingrown toenails and other toe ailments can be very painful, but the sooner you seek treatment, the sooner you can feel better.
Our office’s administrative staff is available to answer questions about insurance coverage and appointment availability, and in most cases, we can even fit you in for a same-day appointment.