Ingrown toenails are one of the most common nail problems we see patients present with. They are commonly caused by a piece of nail digging into the skin on the side of the nail. They most commonly affect the big toenails, but can occur on any of your toenails!
If you have ever suffered from an ingrown toenail, you will KNOW that they can be VERY PAINFUL! They can get red, hot and swollen and sometimes when left alone for too long, bacteria can get into this area and cause the toe to become infected.
What are the Most Common Causes of Ingrown Nails?
• Believe it or not, your genetics can influence your tendency to get ingrown nails! This is actually due to the shape of nail that will make you more predisposed to ingrown toenails. This is generally having very involuted or curly nails- meaning they naturally curve down the side of the nail bed. One of our longer-term treatment options may be more suitable for you if this is a reoccurring problem.
• Poor footwear. If your shoes are too narrow or shallow in the toe box, this can cause an ingrown toenail to flare due to increased pressure on the toes. Our toes need to be able to spread and wiggle around in shoes, so if you can’t do this, then they are definitely too tight. We know it can be daunting finding nice looking shoes that offer the support you need, so if you need help finding something, we stock shoes that likely will offer the support your feet need as well as proving expert advice on the footwear styles that will suit your feet.
• Trauma. This is often as a result of dropping something directly on your toe or even kicking your poor toe against something (yes, we know the table definitely wasn’t there before!) We’ve all been there! Sometimes trauma can cause significant damage to the nail bed and cause significant ongoing problems if left unattended.
• Finally, and probably the most common reason is due to improper cutting techniques. Leaving a little bit of nail behind you can’t get to or cutting them too short in the the corners is probably the most common reason we see patients present with ingrown toenails. If you find you are susceptible to ingrown toenails after cutting them or found you had one flare after cutting your toenails, hands off and leave it up to us! We have the appropriate tools to cut the nail appropriately and re-shape them to prevent the problem from occurring again as the nail grows out. Everyone’s nails are different and can require different care based on all of the above!
So What are the Best Treatments for Ingrown Nails?
Often people are worried about the pain they might experience during the treatment of an ingrown toenail. This makes sense, as they are often tender with touch alone (even from just the bed sheet) and we often hear of patient’s being limited to only wearing open-toed shoes due to this pain. To try and reduce any anxieties around the treatment of an ingrown toenail, we will lay out exactly what a typical consult for an ingrown toenail with us looks like.
Depending on how painful your ingrown toenail is and if there is any redness, swelling, or pus, we will typically start off with treating an ingrown toenail conservatively. This means often we can use our tools to cut the offending piece of nail out appropriately. As we are mobile, this can often be done in the comforts of your own home! As podiatrists we are trained to be as gentle as possible in the removal of ingrown nails. For those who are prone to ingrown nails, regular treatments to the podiatrist (every 6-8 weeks) is enough to keep the nails happy and ingrown free.
When ingrown toenails are left too long and dig in a little further sometimes causing an infection, we can make you feel more comfortable during this by numbing your toe with some local anaesthetic. This means you won’t feel a thing during the whole treatment of your ingrown toenail.
Ingrown Nail Surgery – Partial Nail Avulsion (PNA)
In cases where someone has suffered with reoccurring ingrown toenails for years, or if it is very painful and possibly infected, we can do a minor surgery called a partial nail avulsion (PNA). This involves removing the portion of the nail digging into the skin, or some people prefer to remove the nail in it’s entirety- total nail avulsion (TNA). We then put an acid in the area where the nail grows from to prevent the nail from growing in that area again! After surgery, people may need to take it easy for a day or two but the recovery is quick and people find they can get back to their usual activities in a couple of days.
So, don’t let ingrown nails slow you down- especially coming into the warmer months when our feet are on display! Come and visit us in our clinic, OR have a podiatrist come and see you at home.
Please note: Nail surgeries will only be performed in our clinic and is unable to be a home visit.
Written by Anjila Reddy, Podiatrist 2020
Edited by Claire Farquharson, Clinical Manager 2020