How to recognize and prevent ingrown toenails

Ingrown toenails are a common condition that happen when the corner or side of your toenail grows into the soft flesh surrounding the nail bed. Though they are common, they can result in pain, redness, swelling, and, if left untreated, an infection that can travel beyond your feet. Ingrown toenails usually affect your big toe, but you can get an ingrown nail on any toe.

The good news is, most of the time, you can take care of an ingrown toenail on your own without going to the doctor. However, if the pain is severe or unmanageable, your doctor may be able to help you alleviate the pain and talk with you about how to prevent ingrown toenails from happening in the future.

ingrown toenails
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How to tell if you have an ingrown toenail

According to the Mayo Clinic, ingrown toenail symptoms may include pain and tenderness in your toe along one or both sides of the nail, redness or swelling around your toenail, and/or infection of the tissue around your toenail. If you have diabetes or a condition that causes poor blood flow to your feet, you may be at a higher risk for developing complications from an ingrown nail, so it may be good to consult your doctor immediately before the situation worsens.

It may help to soak your toes in warm water to help with the redness and swelling. Try to stay off your feet as much as possible as well. If the pain persists or you see the redness spreading or pus form, go see your doctor immediately.

Common causes of ingrown toenails

If you find yourself dealing with ingrown toenails more than most, it could be because of one of the following reasons. If you wear shoes that crowd your toenails, like high heels or tight dress shoes, that may be the culprit. Also, cutting your toenails too short or not straight across may lead to them curving into your skin over time.

Injuring your toenail is also a cause for ingrown toenails, like if you bump it on a table leg or smash and break your toenail by jamming it into a door or wall. Finally, if you happen to be unlucky and were born with unusually-curved toenails, this can also cause ingrown nails through no fault of your own. Ingrown nails are actually hereditary, so if your parents constantly deal with them, you may too.

cutting toenail
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Ingrown toenail prevention

Ingrown nails are painful so, thankfully, there are a few measures you can put in place to help prevent them from happening. First, always trim your toenails in a straight line — don’t curve your nails to match the shape of the front of your toe. Make sure you or someone else (be it a podiatrist or at a nail salon) trim your nails regularly. This is also necessary as we age and our nails grow thick and difficult to cut ourselves.

You should also keep your toenails at a moderate length so they’re even with the tips of your toes. If you trim your toenails too short, your shoes can put unnecessary pressure on your toenails, causing them to bend inward. It also helps to wear shoes that are sized properly and aren’t too small. If you get ingrown nails frequently, have a specialist fit you for your next pair of shoes, especially if they are running shoes.

If you work in an area where you may injure your toes, wear protective footwear like steel-toed boots. If you’re easily prone to accidents or running into walls (no judgment), wear shoes or slippers around the house as an added layer of protection.

Ingrown toenails can be a literal pain, so if you are feeling sore, try putting some antibacterial cream on the infected area to reduce pain and swelling. You can also take an over-the-counter pain reliever, but again, if this is happening frequently, consult your doctor or a podiatrist for further treatment options.

Ingrown nails should improve within a week or so without causing any permanent damage to your tootsies. However, if left untreated, ingrown toenails can be excruciatingly painful, and infection can spread to other parts of your body. It’s nothing to mess around with. Take care of yourself — and your feet — and if things get out of hand (er, foot), don’t hesitate to contact your doctor.

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