Ingrowing toenails

An ingrowing toenail, is a painful condition that occurs when a corner or edge of a nail digs into the skin at the end or side of the toe. It usually occurs on the big toe but it can affect others. The pain can affect the way we walk, as it might be uncomfortable putting that part of the foot on the ground causing us to limp. This, in turn, leads to strain on other structures and further problems.

It can be extremely painful, leading to inflammation and infection if left untreated. Easily rectified if dealt with in the early stages by removing a small corner of the nail, but if left it can sometimes mean that the complete nail might need to be taken off under a simple operation.

What causes an ingrown toenail?
Some people are more prone to ingrown toenails than others. Foot deformities and poor gait and posture, for example, can all increase the likelyhood of having a nail grow inwards. Nails can change shape as we get older due to trauma or some people might inherit a nail that curves inwards (known as involuted) and can cause a pinching effect, making it more likely to cause problems. Some other factors that increase the chances of developing the condition are as follows:

  • Poor nail cutting
  • Ill-fitting footwear
  • Tight fitting socks and hosiery
  • Brittle nails
  • Poor hygiene and/or sweaty feet

Who gets an ingrowing toenail?
Anyone can develop an ingrowing nail, but it can be more common in the following people:

  • People who have involuted nails
  • Older people
  • Teenagers
  • Certain sportspeople, such as runners, football players
  • Certain professions, for example dancers

The best solution is to try and avoid things that could cause the problem in the first place, but sometimes this is not possible.

Treatment
Before you see a foot health professional, you can try and relieve the discomfort yourself by bathing your foot in warm salty water. This will help to prevent an infection or help if an infection has already set in and also help to reduce any inflammation. Apply a sterile clean dressing if you have any discharge and rest the foot as much as possible. However, the support and advice of a professional should be sought, especially if you are diabetic or fall within the high risk category.

Treatment will depend on the severity of the problem. It might only require removal of the corner of the nail, which will relieve the pain, or it might need the removal of the complete nail under a small local anaesthetic by a chiropodist. If an infection has set in, antibiotics might be required.

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