What causes an ingrown toenail?

Ingrown toenail (known medically as onychocryptosis) is a condition where the edge of the toenail (most commonly on the big toe) pierces or catches on the skin as it grows up.

MYTH: Nails only grow upwards they do not on any occasion grow outwards towards the side.

There are several causes of an ingrown toenail but probably the most widespread is poor toenail-trimming technique. Cutting down the side of the nail is a major no-no. Why? Because even the smallest spike of nail can grow up and penetrate, or get caught on, the skin.

The ingrown slither of nail acts like a splinter; the skin around it thinks it’s a foreign body and becomes inflamed and infected.

5 hacks to prevent ingrown toenails

  1. Clip with caution. Trim toenails straight across. DO NOT cut down the sides of the nail and refrain from cutting nails too short
  2. Refrain from ripping the nails down the sides. We have all done this! You cut but you can’t get that last bit of nail, so you abandon the clippers and rip the last piece down the side. This leaves a sharp spike, which may not be painful now but in following days it will grow upwards and catch on the skin piercing it creating the subsequent infection and PAIN!
  3. Ditch footwear that is too tight or constricts the toes from moving. This can push the nail into the skin causing irritation and infection
  4. Steer clear of unqualified people offering to remove ingrown toenails. While this may sound somewhat self-serving, there are an increasing number of nail salons offering to perform this sort of work. Removing the nail breaks the skin barrier, which can easily become infected. Whilst your podiatrist makes it look easy that is because it’s what they have been trained to do and complete on a regular basis.
  5. Adhere to best-practice foot care by keeping feet clean and dry to avoid weak, splitting nail and fungal infections.

How to fix ingrown toenails — at home

To treat an ingrown toenail at home you can try: Cutting the nails straight across and applying an antibiotic cream to help reduce the risk of infection and subsequent inflammation. You can also use a nail file to round the corners!

MYTH: Cutting a V in your toenail will not make it grow inwards; nails only grow upwards. While the V may look like it’s closing in, this is an illusion as you are trimming the top of the V, making it appear like the V is getting smaller over time.

Applying a small piece of cotton wool between the ingrown nail and the skin can help life the nail, hopefully clearing it and preventing the nail from piercing the skin again.

Avoid wearing high heels, pointed or tight fitting shoes as these can place pressure on the affected area, potentially delaying healing.

The professional approach

Dr Brenden Brown, podiatrist and founder of A Step Ahead Foot + Ankle Care, says, “If the toenail turns into a monster and becomes red, angry or infected—It’s definitely time to seek professional advice.

“A podiatrist can easily treat an ingrown toenail by removing the troublesome spike of nail. In most cases this is a quick (takes minutes) and simple procedure, which is completely painless.

“Following the removal of the nail spile, the toenail area is cleaned and, if infection has been present, the toe will be dressed.

“In extreme cases, toenail surgery may be required. This will generally only happen if the patient has a repeated history of recurrent in grown nails or if the nails shape means it requires removal of that section, such as when it is involuted or excessively curved.

“It is more rare than most people think to remove a whole nail as we can manage these well conservatively”

Related articles:

Ingrown toenail surgery—is it right for you?

ABOUT US

A Step Ahead Foot + Ankle Care is one of Sydney’s leading foot and ankle clinics. Principal podiatrist and founder of A Step Ahead Dr Brenden Brown (AKA Dr Foot) has been taking care of people’s feet for more than 20 years.

With a background in sports medicine and having served as a former president of the Australasian Podiatry Council, Brenden is a wealth of information when it comes to foot and ankle care.

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