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Prairie Path Foot & Ankle Clinic

Ingrown nails - what causes them and what can I do to prevent it?

If you have ever had a toenail that appeared to grow into the skin, it is probably an ingrown nail.  An ingrown nail is technically called "onychocryptosis," which means "hidden nail" as the nail appears to grow into the nail bed or curved into the flesh of the skin at the sides of the nail bed. 

 The causes of an ingrown nail vary.  Very often it is caused by tight shoes or tight socks pressing onto the side of the nail. Sometimes the cause of the ingrown nail may be trauma to the nail, either trauma due to an injury or even "micro traum" due to a pedicure or digging into the sides of the nail.  Sometimes, the actually nail incurvation and nail shape is hereditary, and you are born with the predisposition for ingrown nails. The reason it is so painful is because the nail may grow so deeply into the skin that it may cause irritation, which may cause pain, redness, and swelling.  

Treatment for an ingrown nail varies.  If it is caught in its early stages where it is not infected, you may try soaking the foot in warm water with antibacterial soap for relief and massage the nail folds away from the edge of the nail.  If this does not work, a trip to your doctor at Prairie Path may be necessary.  If it is brought to a doctor's attention in the early stages, she may be able to use sterile instruments in the office to help reduce the nail border and prevent infection.   If the nail continues to grow into the skin, there may be a break in the skin causing a small entry point for bacteria.  If bacteria enters that skin barrier, it may produce puss or an infection, which needs immediate attention. In that case, a minor procedure to remove the offending nail spicule may be necessary to heal. This can be done in the office the same day.  In some cases, in addition to removing the offending nail border, or nail spicule, an oral antibiotic may be prescribed to get rid of all the bacteria that may be causing the infection due to the ingrown nail.  

Prevention of an ingrown nail is key especially with a history of an ingrown nail, and if precautions are not taken, it may happen again.  Wearing shoes with a wide toe box and proper fitting socks will prevent the skin on the sides of the nail from becoming irritated.  In addition, taking care to cut the toenail straight across instead of digging into the sides will prevent irritation of the nail and the surrounding skin.  

If this is a recurring situation, there are ways to permanently address the problem.  Your doctor will discuss which procedure is best, and can most often be performed in the office.   If you think you may have an ingrown nail, the early you address it, the better. The best way to do this is to have your foot examined by one of our doctors sooner than later.  Prevention and early interventions are the key to happy healthy nails.