What To Do About An Ingrown Toenail?

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An ingrown toenail is a form of toe health complication which often causes pain. Otherwise referred to as onychocryptosis, the ingrown toenail involves the process whereby the nail grows in an unusual manner. The toenail grows and cuts on one or both the sides of the nail bed. Even though the ingrown nails can occur on both the hands the feet, they are most commonly experienced in the feet. Usually, the ingrown toenail the big toe is most affected by the health condition. The health complication will often start off as a microbial inflammation on the nail bed, which results in the burying of the nail. One might ask, “What will happen if you leave an ingrown toenail untreated?” Well, you can expect the following issues:

  • The toenail can progress into a severe wound that develops into an infection that can produce an abscess
  • You can also expect lots of difficult when wearing shoes that were previously comfortable for your feet.
  • The pain might compromise your ability to focus on day-to-day tasks, thereby having adverse effects on the quality of your life

Risk Factors

There are several factors that can increase one`s likelihood of suffering from an ingrown toenail. Among some of these significant factors to consider include:

  • Wearing tight-fitting shoes or shoes that have high heels – putting on shoes that are not comfortable can affect the development and growth of nails
  • Using the incorrect techniques when trimming the toenails – using ineffective nail trimming techniques has adverse effects on the structure of the toenails
  • Health complications such as fungal infections – health issues such as fungi and bacteria can affect the healing ability of the affected area
  • Acute injury close to the nail or trauma – any severe damage or trauma to the affected area can increase injury issues
  • Genetics and hereditary factors – being born in a family with a history of foot deformities increases the likelihood of suffering from the condition

Signs and Symptoms

The signs and symptoms of an ingrown toenail are vast, but the pain is usually an all common factor. Typically, the complication often worsens when the individual does not use the appropriate footwear, which might lead to pain or sensitivity. Any pressure or weight exerted on the affected toe can lead to sharp or excruciating pain, as the nail compromises the tissue further. Due to the complex nature of the condition, the ingrown toenails are easily prone to infections unless the individual takes special care. The symptoms of infection include factors such as redness and swelling of the affected area around the toenail. Other signs include drainage of pus and a water discharge as well. However, it is vital to be able to distinguish the condition from other issues such as involuted nails, corns, and calluses. Broadly speaking, some of the common factors to look out for include:

  • During the early stages of an ingrown toenail, the affected area might become reddish and painful with some swelling. However, you will rarely experience drainage or pus. More so, the affected area might feel warm.
  • The affected area might have extra skin and tissue, which might cause toenail damage. More so, you might also experience drainage of a yellowish substance
  • In some cases, you might experience an infection. In this case, the condition might worsen, and you might even develop a fever.


The leading cause of ingrown toenails is lack of proper footwear. In particular, shoes that don’t provide the perfect fit, or are perhaps too tight can increase the amount of stress on the foot. Other factors to consider might include exposing the foot to damp conditions and in an enclosed area. These conditions can gradually soften the nail plate, thereby leading to swelling in the skin area.

Improper cutting of the nail may also cause the nail to compromise the surrounding skin area. As a result, the individual might experience compromised toe growth, and the impact leads to an ingrown nail. The nail will grow at an unusual angle when it’s not cut correctly. More so, if the cutting tool such as nail cutter is not well structured, then this might also lead to the condition. The procedure is clear as the nail grows, thereby appearing as an unusual growth at the end of the nail. When cutting a nail, it’s essential to apply the correct cutting techniques to achieve the best results.

Broken toenails are also another leading cause of ingrown toenails. To be specific, any trauma to the nail structure, can compromise the functionality of the toe development process. As such, the individual might experience damaged flesh and compromised nail development as well. Furthermore, predisposing factors such as nail beds with abnormal structures and deformities increase genetic susceptibility.

When Should You Seek Medical Care for the Issue?

Once the ingrown toenail develops into an infection, it’s vital that you get medical attention. More so, even if the affected area is inflamed without any disease, visit the doctor if you experience the following:

  • If the condition has recurred for more than a few months or a significant duration of time
  • If there are improvements regardless of the conservative treatment solutions you use
  • If you have health complications such as AIDS and diabetes
  • If the condition persists and becomes an infected wound

Management and Treatment Options for an Ingrown Toenail

Before managing the issue of an ingrown toenail, it is essential to gain insight into the nature of the condition. For instance, one study evaluated patients with ingrown toenails, and health participants found no difference in the shape of toenails. Furthermore, the study demonstrated that treatment should not be based on nail deformities that do not exist. The study also cited that such conditions are caused by issues such as intense physical running. The condition was particularly prevalent in individuals who had an excessive amount of tissue existing around the side sections of the nail. As such, weight bearing causes an excessive amount of skin to protrude on the side sections of the nail.

Any extra pressure on the skin can lead to tissue damage, and issues such as swelling. Furthermore, most treatments have the goal of treating the nail, including partial removal of the fully functional nail. There are various suitable treatment methods for ingrown toenails. Among some of the commonly used forms of treatments include:

Conservative Treatment

The mild cases of ingrown toenails can be addressed using conventional DIY treatment methods. For instance, this might consist of the use of warm water and antibacterial ointment. However, if these DIY approaches are not useful, then the individual might require a surgical process. The foot specialist might have to use specialized medical procedures to lift the toenail and address the affected area. Other standard conservative DIY measures to include:

  • Lift the nail gently to detach the spicule that often digs around the soft tissue that surrounds the affected area
  • Addressing any underlying pathogenic issues such as fungal and bacterial infections in the body
  • Cleaning the affected area using medication such as hydrogen peroxide to stop the development of bacteria or infections
  • Learning about basic DIY foot care methods for the common deformities that people experience


The surgical treatment of an ingrown toenail is a procedure overseen by a podiatrist or a foot specialist. In most cases, the process might involve a medical process that involves the use of local anesthesia along with surgical instruments. The surgical procedure of removing the ingrown nail is referred to as a wedge resection. However, if the condition recurs after the treatment, the doctor might have to use chemicals or excision to stop the growth. Antibiotics are also commonly supplied along as part of the treatment process for the ingrown nails. The surgical treatment for the nails is useful for treating nails that regrow inwards as when compared to non-surgical treatments.

Nail Bracing

While nail bracing is useful for solving ingrown toenails complications, it is less commonly used for the condition. In particular, the nail brace works by helping to lift the sides of the toenail, and restructuring the nail to grow in a flat shape. The average time required for the nail restructuring averages at about 1 to 1 /1/2 years. The common types of nail braces are hooked and adhesive braces. The adhesive versions consist of thin strips of composite material that are stuck in the top structure of the nail. The strip has the goal of returning the original state and structure of the nail, thereby reducing any issues of ingrown toenails. The hooked braces consist of unique wires that are positioned on either side of the nail, along with a unique, controlling system to regulate the hooks.

Cotton Wick Method

This method involves placing the lateral edge of the toenail at a high angle. Then, you have to insert a small piece of cotton wool, under the side of the nail. Ensure the cotton wool is disinfected by perhaps dipping it into an antiseptic. Done correctly, and the process might not require the use of a local anesthetic. However, you can use iodine solution to cauterize the surrounding tissue area. Once the patients starts experiencing relief, or if the cotton falls out, consider repeating the medical process.

Dental Floss Technique

This approach has many similarities to the cotton wick method, except that it involves the use of dental floss. The process of inserting the dental floss requires care to avoid any secondary damage to the affected area. More so, this process can also be conducted without the use of a local anesthetic. Patients who use this process correctly often report relief after a few days of application. The floss can also be replaced and adjusted in relation to the nature of the ingrown toenail issue.

Proper Footwear

Getting the correct shoes is an imperative when it comes to handling almost any type of toe deformity. In particular, an ingrown nail can be painful if you tend to wear narrow or point shoes. The ideal shoe for such a condition might be a shoe with a wide toe box or open shoes. Avoid placing the affected area in tight or damp conditions as these are factors that can lead to further infection.

Toenail Cutting – Advice for Patients

Perhaps the most common causes of an ingrown toenail would be the improper cutting of toenails. As such, it is vital to apply the correct cutting techniques to avoid any instance of injury. The typical school of thought would be for one to cut straight across rather than use the curved approach. That said, this approach has been challenged in various instances recently. A recent medical study evaluated the effectiveness of specific techniques in treating patients who experience ingrown toenails. According to the study, the appropriate cutting technique targets the growth area around the matrix of the nail. Broadly speaking, patients are advised to consider the following:

  • Cut the toenails either straight across, or perhaps by applying a gentle curve. You have to proceed with caution to avoid cutting deeply into the corners and soft sections of the nail. Consider investing in podiatry grade nail clippers if you are prone to toe deformities.
  • Use a nail fail to ensure that the jagged edges are smooth and won’t affect the soft tissue around the nail. Use a black file because it helps to reach the remote areas of the feet such as spicule

NB: Patients that have flexibility or mobility issues might consider referrals to a podiatrist to address the nail cutting issues.


An ingrown toenail can be a pain in the neck, especially if you have day to day obligations such as professional tasks. However, with the right prevention and treatment methods, and you might be in an excellent position to address the health complication. Various factors contribute to the occurrence of ingrown toenails, which can cause immense pain. Consider using DIY techniques such as bandages and dental floss if the condition has not worsens. More so, investing in good shoes is also an important aspect of the treatment and recovery process. However, you might require surgery if the pain and the abnormal nail growth persists.

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