Treating Ingrown Toenails

We're no strangers to treating ingrown toenail patients here at our Powder Springs, GA podiatry practice. In fact, this is one of the most common complaints we see in the office. Especially when it comes to our pediatric patients. Now, while we've made the treatment process as comfortable as possible, we'd still rather help you avoid problems in the first place. Like the sound of that idea? Keep reading our guide to preventing ingrown toenails, with tips for treating this concern if problems develop. 

What is an ingrown toenail? Signs and symptoms ingrown toenail with red swollen skin

The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons says: "An ingrown nail occurs when the skin on one or both sides of a nail grows over the edges of the nail, or when the nail itself grows into the skin.”

Sounds painful, right? Well, it is. And that's why the main symptoms of an ingrown toenail are pain and tenderness around the nail bed. (Usually, your big toenail. But you can develop ingrowth on any of your nails.) Other symptoms include redness, swelling and pus or drainage, if you develop an infection.

Since most of us cut our own toenails, many people think treating an ingrown toenail can happen at home. But that's just not true. In fact, when you use a home remedy for an ingrown toenail, you are unlikley to fix the problem. Instead, you're more likely to increase your pain, or develop an infection.  Why is that the case? Let's explore some of the viral, at-home ingrown toenail remedies. That should help you understand why they're more trouble than they're worth.

Why Treating Ingrown Toenails at Home Doesn't Work

Some people think that you can correct an ingrown toenail by cutting a v-shaped notch in the middle of the troubled toe's nail. The thinking? This will change the direction of nail growth, and stop the inward turn.

Sadly, this rumor runs counter to science. In reality, nails grow up from the bottom of the bed, right by the cuticle. As such, you can cut any shape you want into the top of your toenail. But it won't make a difference when it comes to ingrown toenail risk. Especially since most ingrown toenails develop at the outer edges of your nailbed. And not in the middle of the nail.

Another idea that won't help you recover from ingrown toenails? Lifting the corner of your ingrown nail and placing cotton beneath it. While this could relieve ingrown toenail pain for a minute, that cotton could get stuck or pushed into the delicate skin around your nail. Plus, since cotton can soak up liquids, it could absorb germs from an infected toenail, spreading problems to other areas.

Finally, don't even think about cutting away the portion of ingrowing nail on your own. Let's face it: your nail scissors are probably not sterile. And neither is your bathroom, no matter how clean you keep it. As a result, any instrument you use, or the surface on which you place your foot, could be covered with possible sources of infection. So, if you try to dig deep into your ingrown nail bed area, you run the risk of introducing germs into the cuts caused by your ingrowing nail. At best, the process will hurt. A lot. But at worst? You can leave yourself with a serious infection. And make it that much more difficult for us to resolve your ingrown nail.

Safe Skin and Toenail Care in Powder Springs, GA

Once you notice a change in the direction of your nail growth, it's time to set up an appointment with our podiatrist, Dr. Alvin Cowans. Seeking in-office care is the safest and best way to find lasting relief. But if you want some relief before you come in, here are some safe steps to follow for at-home ingrown toenail relief.

If you notice that the skin around your nail is red or swollen, soak your foot in warm water for up to 15 minutes, once or twice each day. This can relieve pain and pressure around your ingrown toenail.

Now, this relief won't last forever. And that's why you need to seek help for treating an ingrown toenail. In truth, that's the only way to stop the pain and infection from worsening. However, even if your soaks relieve your pain, or if you successfully trimmed away a slightly ingrown nail, it's important to seek professional treatment. Otherwise, the problem--and pain--is likely to return. And when it does? Well, the next time around, you may not be as lucky.

Preventing Ingrown Toenails: 3 Ways to Stop the Change in Growth Direction

Want to prevent ingrown toenails instead of treating them again and again? Here are three important steps to follow.

1. When trimming your toenails, be sure to cut straight across. Make sure that you don't follow the curve of your nail bed, especially at the corners. And never trim your nail too low, or allow yourself to get too close to the skin. Instead, there should still be some white nail visible once you're done with cutting the nail. Going too close to the delicate skin beneath your nail increases your risk for pain, infection and ingrowth.

2. Avoid tight or small shoes, since pairs that pinch your nail or bump into your toes can cause trauma to the area. That will make it more likely that your nail will eventually turn inward. 

3. Stay away from loose shoes, as well, since your foot will slide in a roomy shoe. When that happens, your toenail could still bump into the hard shoe edge, creating damage and increasing your risk for ingrown toenails.

Prevention is always important. But the process isn't perfect. Do you have a painful ingrown toenail that just won't go away? Skip the at-home remedies and come into the office right away. We'll make sure you're treating that ingrown toenail in a sterile, safe environment. This will deliver lasting pain relief and keep your ingrown toenail from coming back, again and again.