What Exactly Is An Ingrown Toenail?

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What is an ingrown toenail?

An ingrown toenail—the medical term is onychocryptosis—is a toenail that has curled at the edges, cutting into the soft tissue of the toe. Ingrown toenails most often occur on the big toe but they can be seen on any toe, and generally make themselves known by redness, pain and swelling along the edge of the toenail.

What causes ingrown toenails?

Many things can make a toenail begin to curl into the tissue around it. You may be wearing shoes that crowd your toes (you are especially at risk if you play sports or walk a lot); you may have stubbed or otherwise injured your toe; your foot may not get a chance to air out regularly, causing the nail to soften and bend; you might even simply have trimmed your nail to close. Heredity may play a part, and if you have diabetes or another condition that limits the circulation in your feet you are also at a higher risk for ingrown toenails.

What do I do if I suspect I have an ingrown toenail?

The first thing to do is make yourself more comfortable. Switch to sandals or open-toes shoes to take the pressure off the affected toe, and soak your feet regularly—if possible three or four times a day—in warm water. Gently trim your nails back (straight across, not rounded edges) and wear slip-on toe separators.  If you don’t see an improvement after two or three days, or if the redness and swelling seem to be spreading, make an appointment to see your podiatrist—don’t let the ingrown toenail progress to the point of an infection.

What are the dangers of an ingrown toenail?

Aside from the discomfort it causes the condition is not in itself a problem, but an ingrown toenail can turn into an infection that can move into the bone and cause permanent damage. If you have diabetes you should be especially vigilant about any kind of foot injury, including an ingrown toenail; open sores that don’t heal can lead to decay of tissue and eventual gangrene.

What can I do to prevent an ingrown toenail?

Keep your toenails trimmed evenly across so they are even with the tips of your toes; wear shoes that give your toes plenty of room; wear steel-toed protective footwear with if your work or other activities put you at risk of injury to your toes.  In general, practice good foot hygiene—keep your feet clean and don’t let them stay damp for too long. And if you suspect that you may be developing an ingrown toenail make an appointment to see your podiatrist for an evaluation. Triad Foot & Ankle Center has four convenient locations to serve your foot and ankle care needs. Request an appointment with one of our podiatric specialists today for a foot exam by clicking here or call any of our convenient office locations in the Piedmont Triad.

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