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Ingrown Toenail

An image of a pair of feet with the text "ingrown tenail" over it

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Please note that all content on this website (including, but not limited to, copy, images, commentary, advice, tips, hints, guides, observations) is provided as an informational resource only. It is not a substitute for correct and accurate diagnosis, or recommendation, or treatment by a medical professional. Please ensure that you obtain proper guidance from your GP, or another medical professional. The information provided on this website does not create any patient-medical expert relationship and must not be used in any way as a substitute for such.

 

 

An ingrown toenail, usually affecting the big toe, can be a painful condition for people of all ages. The most prominent sign that you have an ingrowing toenail is the pain you experience when wearing shoes, due to the pressure the shoes place on the feet. 

What Causes Ingrown Toenails?

People of all ages can get an ingrowing toenail, and it is often attributed to a few leading causes. These include:

  • Toenail clipping – one of the most significant causes of ingrowing toenails is the way they are cut. Many people cut them too short when grooming, and this can lead to the skin growing over the nail. Toenails that are cut at the sides, or edges, are also at risk of the skin growing over the nail.
  • Tight-fitting footwear – footwear that does not fit correctly, or applies pressure to the toes, can impact the development of ingrown nails. If too much pressure is applied to the skin, a toenail may pierce the skin and cause sore areas on the toe.
  • Sweaty, or clammy feet – if you are prone to sweaty, or clammy feet, the moisture can make the skin on your feet softer. This can make it more prone to getting pierced by the nail, which in turn can embed itself in it.
  • Injury to the foot – in some cases, if you have an injury to the toes, such as stubbing your foot, this can cause an ingrowing nail to develop.
  • Shape of the nail – unfortunately, some people are prone to ingrowing toenails due to the shape of their nails. If you have curved, or fan-shaped nails, they are more likely to press into the skin around your nail.
  • Fungal nail infection – people that suffer from fungal nail infections can find the skin thickens around the nail. This can also be a cause of ingrowing nails.
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In most cases, individuals will experience different levels of pain. However, alongside pain, there are some other signs to look for, including:

  • Inflammation – if your toe is looking swollen around the nail, it could be a sign the nail is embedded into the skin.
  • Fluid around the toe – in some cases, you may spot fluid building up around the toe.
  • Blood – ingrowing toenails can cause the affected area to bleed. It is essential to keep this area clean to avoid infection.
  • Leaking pus – if the toenail is ingrowing, it sometimes produces white, or yellow pus, in the affected area.
  • Pain when applying pressure – even if your toe doesn’t hurt all the time, it may still be an ingrowing toenail if there is pain when pressure is applied.
  • Overgrowth of skin – the affected toe may appear to have overgrown skin that is covering the nail. This is also known as hypertrophy.

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Photo by JZhuk on iStock

Ingrowing toenails can be managed at home. However, if left untreated, they can cause severe pain and infection. If you have an ingrown toenail, there are a few things you can do to keep it under control such as:

  • Keep feet clean – washing your feet regularly and then drying them thoroughly can help the affected area.
  • Changing socks – if you are prone to sweaty and clammy feet, changing socks frequently can help reduce excess moisture building up.

Things you can do to try and prevent an ingrown toenail include:

  • Cut toenails straight – it can be tempting to cut toenails short and all the way around. However, just taking a small section off and cutting straight will help the nail to grow up, rather than digging into the skin. Chiropodists Toe Nail Scissors can be very effective, and with a longer reach, they're a great mobility aid for people with issues bending and stretching.
  • Push the skin away from the nail – if you suspect the beginnings of an ingrown toenail, you can gently push the skin away from the nail with a cotton bud. If the skin is thick, or tough to move, try softening it with some olive oil first.
  • Wear correctly fitting shoes – wearing the right size and style for your feet is vital for overall foot health and will help to prevent ingrowing toenails.

If your ingrowing toenail gets worse, surgery may be required to remove all, or part of the toenail.

Total Nail Removal

If necessary, doctors may advise that the whole toenail is removed. This is often the case for people that have a thick nail that is pressing into the surrounding skin. When surgery is complete, there will be an indentation where the nail used to be. However, it is safe not to have a nail.

Partial Nail Removal 

In most ingrowing nail cases, partial removal is undertaken, and the NHS state this procedure is 98% effective for treating the condition. This type of surgery removes the edges of the toenail, and phenol is applied to prevent the nail from growing back. Antibiotics are also prescribed if there was an infection present.

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With busy lifestyles and ill-fitting shoes, ingrown toenails can sometimes be unavoidable. If you have an ingrowing nail, then visiting a pharmacist, or doctor first can help you manage the pain. They may refer you to a podiatrist who will advise on the best treatments. For long-term care of your feet, having a pedicure, or visiting a podiatrist will ensure that the nails are cut correctly to avoid future ingrowing nails.

If you have hard skin around your big toe, using foot moisturiser, and Foot Cleaner with Pumice Stone will also soften the skin and make it easier to push the skin away from the nail.

Using Antibacterial Digital Pads can alleviate pain by reducing infection and keeping the area clean. As well as being antibacterial, they are lined with medical grade mineral oil that soothingly moisturises and protects the area.

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Medical terms are often baffling and difficult to fully understand. To help, we have listed some frequently used terms below.

• Fungal infection – also known as mycosis, an infection caused by microscopic fungi

• Inflammation – a protective response by the body tissues that can cause pain

• Phenol – a chemical applied during surgery to prevent the toenail from growing back

• Podiatrist – a healthcare professional trained to diagnose and treat foot conditions

• Pumice stone – a light, abrasive stone that is used to remove dead skin