Toenails that curve over and dig into the skin of your toe are called ingrown toenails. They can cause significant pain, but are generally not serious if taken care of. If you don’t take good care of your feet though, an ingrown toenail can lead to a severe infection.
An ingrown toenail occurs when the toenail begins growing down into the skin of the toe instead of straight out and above the skin. Sometimes, the skin itself may cover the sides of the toenails, causing the nail to become embedded in the skin. An ingrown toenail can occur on any toe on the foot, but happens most frequently to the big toe.
You can easily spot an ingrown toenail — the skin actually covers the toenail. The toe may eventually become red, swollen, and quite painful. Sometimes, the skin may even feel hard or tight to the touch. If infection sets in, you may also notice a bit of drainage (pus) seeping from the skin where the nail meets it.
What Causes Ingrown Toenails?
Ingrown toenails happen for many different reasons but the most common cause is improper cutting of the nails. Nails should be cut in a straight line, not curved. Some causes of ingrown toenails include:
- Small toes that are not large enough to accommodate the growth of the nail. Naturally curved or thick nails can also lead to ingrown toenails.
- Damage to the toe, following an injury like running into a piece of furniture.
- Toenails that are cut too short or in a curved line.
- Shoes that are too small and squeeze the toenails.
Risk Factors for Ingrown Toenails
If you have a congenital condition, meaning a problem present at birth, such as very large toenails, you’re at risk of developing ingrown toenails. This means that you should be extra careful to cut your toenails in a line straight across to discourage nail growth into the sides of your toes. You should also make sure that you don’t cut your toenails too short. Additionally, it’s very important to wear comfortable shoes that don’t cramp your toes, which can increase your chances of an ingrown toenail.
Diagnosing Ingrown Toenails
If you suspect you may have an ingrown toenail, it is best to see your podiatrist. He or she can help diagnose an ingrown toenail and figure out what’s causing it — if there’s an underlying problem that needs treatment, or if you’re just wearing the wrong shoes or not cutting your toenails correctly. A podiatrist can also treat the problem, and take care of any infection that may be present. While there are things you can do yourself to ease the pain of an ingrown toenail, such as warm foot soaks, topical or oral antibiotics, it’s recommended to see your foot doctor. Knowing what causes an ingrown toenail can help you prevent the painful condition. If you frequently experience ingrown toenails, see a podiatrist so that you can receive proper treatment.