When the toenail develops into the skin next to the nail, an ingrown toenail occurs. The big toe is most often affected by this.
Though an ingrown toenail does not go away without medication, it can typically be handled at home by people.
We discuss the signs and causes of swallowed toenails in this article. We also look at how these can be handled and avoided.
Ingrown toenails are common and mainly affect young adults and teenagers. People at these ages experience increased suddenness, which may result in softness of the nail fold. Participating in sport can also result in a small portion of the nail being stuck in the skin.
Older adults can also have a better risk of developing the ingrown toenails. This is because poor vision and decreased mobility make it harder to take care of the nails, which appear to get thicker and more demanding with age.
An ingrown toenail is most frequently caused by:
- Wearing poorly fitting shoes: Tight footwear or narrow shoes can place pressure on the nail wall when the big toe pushes into the second toe.
- Trimming toenails incorrectly: A toenail needs to be cut straight across above the nail bed. If it is cut too short, bulging tissue may lead to inflammation.
- Excessive sweating: Too much perspiration can cause the nail bed to become soft, so the nail penetrates the skin easily.
- Injuring the toe: Injuries may include stubbing the toe or dropping something on the foot.
- Taking part in sports: Sports, such as running or activities that involve repeatedly kicking a ball, may damage the toenails and increase the risk of ingrown toenails.
- Nail problems: Fungal infections, or losing a nail due to trauma, can cause ingrown toenails.
- Genetic predisposition: Some people inherit the tendency to develop ingrown toenails.
Bacteria can get into the toe if the nail is cutting through the skin, which can cause infection.
Initial symptoms may include:
- redness around the toenail
- tenderness or pain along the sides of the toenail
- the skin around the nail becoming swollen or hard
- a buildup of fluid around the toe
- pain when putting pressure on the toe
Bacteria may get into the toe if the nail is cutting through the skin, which can cause an infection.
How to tell if it is infected
Symptoms of a toe infection may include:
- red, inflamed skin
- pus discharge
- the skin of the nail fold grows over the nail
An individual needs to treat his or her ingrown toenail as soon as possible to avoid worsening of symptoms.
How to check an ingrowing toenail
A toenail that grows may curve down into the skin, or the skin can look as though it grows over the toenail.
A doctor with a physical exam may be able to treat an ingrown toenail. If the symptoms are extreme, it is important to seek advice from a doctor, as many types of tumors may resemble an ingrown toenail.
People should treat an ingrown toenail as soon as they find it, according to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons.
At home, they can help treat an incubated toenail by:
- soaking the foot in warm water 3 or 4 times a day
- keeping the foot clean and dry at all other times
- wearing comfortable shoes that have enough room for the toes, such as sandals
- taking ibuprofen or acetaminophen to help relieve pain
Epsom salt may also be applied to the water when soaking. Even they can gently massage the nail fold side to minimize swelling.
What not to do
The American Foot and Ankle Surgeons College is providing recommendations about what not to do with an ingrown toenail. They recommend:
- never cutting a notch in the nail, as it does not stop it from curving downwards into the skin
- not repeatedly trimming the nail around the borders, as it can make the condition worse
- not placing cotton under the nail, as it creates the perfect environment for bacteria to grow, which increases the chance of infection
- avoiding over-the-counter ingrown toenail medications, as they may mask the pain, but do not treat the problem
When to see a doctor
Anyone who takes ingrown toenails home care advice but does not see any difference within 2–3 days should talk to a doctor. If there are symptoms of an infection it is also necessary to seek medical attention.
People with underlying medical problems, such as diabetes, feet nerve damage or impaired circulation, should see a doctor as soon as they find a toenail that has been grown in.
Treatment and postcare
If anyone has an infected ingrown toenail, doctors will usually administer antibiotics.
They may also prescribe additional care, such as a minor surgical procedure, in which they cut off part of the side border of the nail. Doctors appear to undergo this procedure under local anesthetic.
A doctor can apply a bandage after the operation, and advise the person to rest until the next day. Most people later insist they have little to no discomfort.
If someone removes an ingrown toenail until it takes hold of the infection, the condition is generally harmless.
At home, most people are able to manage an incubated toenail. Nails can often become incubated again. If that is the case, a doctor may recommend a removal procedure for the nail root.
Many toenail cases can be prevented with:
- Properly trimming nails: People should cut their nails in a straight line, taking care not to cut them too short. They should be able to get their fingernail under the sides and the end of the nail.
- Wearing shoes and socks that fit well: Ill-fitting shoes and socks can put pressure on the toes, particularly when walking fast or running, which can lead to ingrown toenails.
- Never picking at the toenails or tearing them off.
- Keeping the feet clean.
Ingrown toenails can be distressing. They happen when the toenail grows into the toe, or when the skin grows over the nail. Typically the disorder affects broad toes but it can occur with any foot.
Ill-fitting shoes, inadequate nail trimming and foot conditions can cause toenails to grow in.
Without care, they won’t go anywhere so people will generally handle them at home for a few days.
A person should speak to a doctor if:
- the ingrown toenail does not improve with home care
- they have an underlying health condition that affects the feet, such as diabetes
- there are signs of infection
People should use footwear to prevent ingrown toenails, which gives their toes plenty of space. Proper nail trimming methods can also be used.