Understanding Ingrown Toenails: Causes, Solutions, and Pain Relief

LEAP Foot and Ankle Specialists pllc
January 24, 2024

Understanding Ingrown Toenails: Causes, Solutions, and Pain Relief

Ingrown toenails can be a painful and bothersome foot condition that many individuals face. In this blog post, we will delve into in grown toenails, addressing some of the most common questions.  Our aim is to provide valuable insights into the causes, prevention, and effective solutions for this condition.

Are Ingrown Toenails Genetic?

One common question people have about ingrown toenails is whether they have a genetic component. While ingrown toenails are not purely genetic, there can be a hereditary predisposition. Some individuals may have a toenail shape or structure that makes them more prone to ingrowth. Factors such as the curvature of the toenail or the width of the nail bed can contribute to the likelihood of developing ingrown toenails. If family members have a history of recurring ingrown toenails, it's essential to be vigilant and proactive in preventing and managing this condition.

Are Ingrown Toenails Common?

Ingrown toenails are a relatively common foot ailment that many people experience. This condition occurs when the edge of a toenail grows into the surrounding skin, leading to pain, swelling, and potential infection. Factors contributing to the common occurrence of ingrown toenails include:

  • Improper Nail Trimming: Cutting toenails too short or rounding the edges excessively can encourage ingrowth.
  • Ill-Fitting Footwear: Tight shoes or high heels can exert pressure on the toes, contributing to ingrown toenails.
  • Trauma or Injury: Stubbing the toe or dropping something heavy on it can cause the toenail to grow irregularly.
  • Genetic Predisposition: As mentioned earlier, some individuals may be genetically predisposed to ingrown toenails.

Given these factors, it's crucial to maintain proper foot care practices and wear well-fitted shoes to reduce the risk of developing ingrown toenails.

Can Ingrown Toenails Fix Themselves?

A common misconception is whether ingrown toenails can resolve on their own. While mild cases might improve with proper care, it's generally not advisable to rely on ingrown toenail self-care. The nail's ingrown edge can continue to grow into the surrounding skin, leading to increased pain and potential infection. Simple at-home remedies may provide temporary relief, such as soaking the foot in warm water, gently lifting the ingrown edge with sterile tweezers, and keeping the area clean. However, if the condition persists or worsens, seeking professional help is crucial to prevent complications.

Why Do Ingrown Toenails Hurt?

Understanding why ingrown toenails cause pain is essential for effective management. The pain associated with ingrown toenails is primarily due to inflammation and pressure on the affected area. When the toenail digs into the skin, it can lead to:

  • Inflammation: The surrounding skin becomes red, swollen, and tender due to the body's inflammatory response.
  • Pressure: The ingrown toenail exerts pressure on the sensitive skin, causing pain with every step.
  • Potential Infection: If left untreated, ingrown toenails can become infected, intensifying the pain. Infections may present with symptoms like pus, increased redness, and warmth around the affected area.

To alleviate ingrown toenail pain, individuals can adopt the following measures:

  • Warm Soaks: Soaking the foot in warm water can help reduce inflammation and ease discomfort.
  • Proper Footwear: Wearing shoes with adequate room for the toes can prevent additional pressure on the ingrown toenail.
  • Avoid Self-Treatment: Trying to cut or dig out an ingrown toenail at home can worsen the condition and increase the risk of infection.

How Ingrown Toenails are Treated

Understanding the effective treatment and how to fix ingrown toenails are crucial for individuals seeking relief from this common foot ailment. Here's a look at the approaches your Denver podiatrist will commonly take to address ingrown toenails:

  • Conservative Management:
  • Soaking the Foot: Soaking the affected foot in warm water and epsom salt can help reduce inflammation and soften the surrounding skin, making it easier to lift the ingrown edge.
  • Proper Nail Trimming: Trimming the toenails straight across and avoiding excessively rounding the edges can prevent ingrown toenails from recurring.
  • Professional Intervention:
  • Partial Nail Plate Removal (Partial Nail Avulsion): In cases where ingrown toenails persist or become recurrent, your Lakewood, Co podiatrist may opt for a partial nail removal procedure. This involves removing a portion of the nail or the ingrown edge to prevent future issues.  We can also perform a chemical matrixectomy for ingrown toenails to reduce the risk of the ingrown toenail coming back. 
  • Total Nail Removal (Complete Nail Avulsion): In severe cases, especially if there is chronic infection or if the ingrown toenail is a recurring problem, one of the podiatrists at LEAP Foot and Ankle Specialists may recommend complete nail removal. This is a more extensive procedure but can be effective in preventing further complications.
  • Antibiotics:
  • If there is an infection associated with the ingrown toenail, we may prescribe antibiotics to eliminate the infection. It's essential to complete the full course of antibiotics, even if symptoms improve, to prevent the infection from returning.
  • Topical Treatments:
  • Antibiotic Ointments: Applying antibiotic ointments to the affected area can help prevent infection and promote healing.
  • Sterile Dressings: Keeping the area clean and covered with sterile dressings can protect it from further irritation.
  • Orthopedic Devices:
  • Toe Spacers: Toe spacers can be used to prevent the toes from compressing together, reducing the risk of ingrown toenails.

In conclusion, ingrown toenails are a common and sometimes painful foot condition that requires attention and proper care. Addressing questions like whether ingrown toenails are genetic, how common they are, if they can fix themselves, and why they hurt sheds light on the complexity of this issue. Practicing good foot hygiene, wearing comfortable footwear, and seeking professional help when needed are essential steps in preventing and managing ingrown toenails effectively. If you're experiencing persistent pain or signs of infection, call our office today to schedule an appointment with Dr. Melissa Hurwitz or Dr. Jared Menchin at LEAP Foot and Ankle Specialists pllc.


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