Published: May 29, 2011
Ingrown toenails can be really, really painful. It’s when one or both sides of the toenail grow into the surrounding skin. The nail is usually sharp and pierces the skin, making it painful and tender. The big toe is most likely to be affected, either on one or on both sides.
Anyone can get an ingrown toenail, but teenagers and older people are most likely to get them. This might be because during the teenage years, the feet tend to sweat more. As a result, the toenail and surrounding skin can soften and split, resulting in an ingrown toenail. Older people might get them more because nail naturally grow thicker with age and are more likely to hurt the surrounding skin.
If you have an ingrown toenail, this might be why:
- Incorrectly cut toenails – such as cutting off the edges or cutting them too short
- Tight-fitting shoes, socks or tights – these put pressure on the nails and skin
- Excessive sweating or poor foot hygiene –making to skin softer
- Injury – like if you stub your toe or rip your nail off
- Nail infections – a fungal infection can make the toenail wider and thicker
- Natural shape of the toenail – such as fanned or curved nails
The symptoms of an ingrown toenail vary depending on how severe the problem is. If you have a mild case then you might experience pain around the area, red skin and inflammation around the top of the toe and sometimes a build-up of fluid around the area.
Moderate symptoms may include:
- Increased inflammation (swelling) of the toe
- White or yellow coloured pus coming from the affected area
- The toe becoming infected
And severe symptoms may additionally include:
- An overgrowth of skin around the affected toe (hypertrophy)
- Severe infection
If you have a mild case of ingrown toenails, then you can often treat it at home by following a few simple rules. But if the pain if severe, or if the self-help measures don’t work, then you need to visit your doctor, who will be able to advise you on the best course of action.
Things you can do at home:
- Practise good foot hygiene by taking care of your feet and regularly washing them, using soap and water.
- Trim the nail straight across to help prevent pieces of nail continuing to dig into the surrounding skin.
- Gently push the skin away from the nail using a cotton bud (this may be easier after using a small amount of olive oil to soften the skin).
- Wear comfortable shoes that are not too tight and provide space around your toes.
- Painkillers, such as paracetamol, can be used to help relieve any pain (children under the age of 16 should not take aspirin).
If your ingrown toenail is particularly severe, then you may need to have surgery to get it removed. The most common procedure is around 98% effective. Your doctor will be able to provide you with the best advice on that issue.