Ingrown Toenail: The edge of a toenail that grows down into the toe’s skin, causing pain, redness, and swelling near the nail.
Ingrown toenails, though not a life-threatening health problem, can cause significant pain or discomfort in the affected toe. In severe cases, the infection caused by an ingrown toenail may spread into the toe bones. Ingrown toenails can affect any of the toes, though the big toe is most vulnerable to this health problem (due to the forces placed on it by the toe boxes of conventional footwear).
Ingrown toenails are a common (though not normal) problem and affect millions of people every year. Certain factors or habits may increase a person’s likelihood of developing this health problem, including:
- Poor eyesight
- Anatomical quirks
- Physical limitations
- Poor trimming habits
Poor vision and an inability to reach the toes easily—two factors common among elderly individuals—can lead to improper trimming of the nails and ingrown toenails. Some people possess thicker-than-usual nails, which is another factor that may increase the risk for ingrown toenails. And poor trimming habits, including picking or tearing the corners of the toenails, as well as stubbing the toe, may also contribute to this health problem.
Signs & Symptoms
Some of the most common signs and symptoms associated with ingrown toenails include:
- Redness around the involved area
- Swelling around the affected toenail
- Infection of the tissue surrounding the involved toenail
- Pain and tenderness along one or both sides of the nail
Two of the most common causes of ingrown toenails are improperly fitting shoes and poorly trimmed or untrimmed toenails. Shoes that are too tight in the toe box are particularly problematic and hasten the development of ingrown toenails. Shoes with tapering toe boxes place a significant amount of pressure on the edges of the toenail, especially the big toe's toenail. A person has an increased risk of developing an ingrown toenail if he or she regularly participates in athletic activities using shoes that are even a little tight in the toe box.
Nails that are trimmed improperly are another possible cause of ingrown toenails. Toenails that are trimmed too short, especially on the sides of the big toes, may predispose a person to ingrown toenails. Trimming the nails to taper at the corners, so that the arc of the toenail parallels the shape of the toes’ ends, may lead to ingrown toenails. This trimming method may lead to ingrown toenails because the nail edges can curl down and dig into the skin.
Certain foot or toe deformities can also place stress on the toes and cause ingrown toenails.
Conservative care strategies are often effective in treating or preventing ingrown toenails, though partial toenail removal by a podiatrist or other qualified healthcare professional may be required in some cases. Aggressive therapies, such as nail removal, may be required if a person develops extreme discomfort in the affected toe or notices pus or redness that appears to be spreading. Diabetics or individuals who have impaired lower extremity circulation should be vigilant in monitoring the health and condition of their toenails.
The most important conservative care technique in preventing ingrown toenails involves the use of appropriate footwear, especially footwear that possesses adequate room in the toe box. Choose men’s or women’s footwear that allows the toes to splay the way nature intended. Correct Toes is another indispensible foot health tool that’s extremely helpful in managing or preventing ingrown toenails. Correct Toes keeps the toes splayed well apart and helps reduce or eliminate the forces that may lead to ingrown toenails.