What Is an Ingrown Nail?
Ingrown nails -- when the nail grows into the flesh instead of over it -- usually affect the toenails, particularly the big toe. People with curved or thick nails are most susceptible, although anyone can suffer from ingrown nails as a result of an injury, poorly fitting shoes, or improper grooming of the feet. People with diabetes, vascular problems, or numbness in the toes need to be aggressive in treating and preventing ingrown toenails because they can lead to serious complications, including the risk of losing a limb.
A damaged or improperly trimmed nail can become ingrown, burrowing into the skin at the side of the nail. The site can become painful and infected, and may not heal until the nail is removed. To avoid ingrown nails, always trim nails straight across.
What Causes Ingrown Nails?
Ingrown nails are most frequently caused by cutting your toenails too short or rounding the nail edges or by wearing ill-fitting shoes or tight hosiery that press the nail into your toe. You can also develop an ingrown nail after an injury, such as stubbing or jamming your toe.
If the condition causing the ingrown toenail continues, overgrowth of the tissue over the nail can lead to permanent changes in the tissue that can cause infection, more pain, and more swelling.
Most ingrown nail problems can be prevented with proper grooming of the toes and by wearing better-fitting shoes. Try to reduce pressure on the toe by wearing sandals or by not wearing a shoe for several days.
Avoid trimming the corner of the toenail unless you can easily see and clip the corner of the nail. Otherwise, this can lead to a worsening of the ingrown toenail.
If you notice an infection, see your doctor, who may prescribe an antibiotic. In many cases, your doctor may recommend partial removal of a severely ingrown nail. Unless the ingrowing piece of nail is removed, the problem will often persist. Permanent removal of the nail root at the ingrown side may be advised if ingrown nails recur. These procedures are done in the doctor's office or surgery center under a local anesthetic.
How Can I Prevent Ingrown Nails?
Proper grooming is the first step in preventing ingrown nails.
Soak the feet first to soften the nails. Always cut the nail straight across using nail clippers, and leave enough nail to cover the toe to protect it.
(Do not use scissors, which are difficult to manipulate in the corners of the nail.) Smooth sharp edges with an emery board.
Wear socks and shoes that fit properly. Women especially need to be aware that tight, pointed, high-heeled shoes and tight stockings can cause ingrown nails by putting pressure on the toes.
Parents should groom young children's nails. An older relative may need help as well because of impaired vision and greater difficulty reaching the feet.
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