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What is an ingrown toenail?

Ingrown toenails are nails that grow into the skin instead of on top of it. While they can occur on any toe, they most frequently occur on the big toe. Ingrown toenails are typically very painful, with pain increasing when wearing shoes, walking, or otherwise placing pressure on the foot and the toes.

An ingrown toenail causes pain, discomfort, and also places you at risk for potential infection. When the ingrown edge pierces the skin, it creates an opening that can allow microorganisms—bacteria, viruses, fungi—to enter the body. Infections from these organisms are bad enough for otherwise healthy individuals, but can be downright dangerous when there are existing medical conditions, like diabetes, that compromise the immune system.

Ingrown Toenail

What causes ingrown toenails?

One of the most common causes of ingrown toenails is improper nail trimming. Toenails should always be cut straight across and not curved to the shape of the toe to prevent the edges of the nail from burrowing into the skin. Other common causes include wearing shoes that don’t fit correctly, especially those that fit very tightly around the toe area. Men and women with thick nails or nails that tend to curve inward are also at an increased risk of developing ingrown toenails. Over time, the area around the nail can become infected if not treated.

People with diabetes or other diseases of the circulatory system, as well as people who experience numb feet, need to be especially careful with ingrown toenails since they can become infected without the person being aware of it. In these people, severe, advanced infection can spread to the rest of the toe, requiring amputation.

How are ingrown toenails treated?

If the condition is not severe, properly grooming the affected toenail can reverse the condition. The most common form of medical treatment for moderate to severe ingrown toenails involves injecting a numbing anesthetic into the toe and then removing the portion of the nail that has become ingrown. Once the nail portion is removed, a special chemical is applied to prevent the ingrown portion from regrowing.

The procedure requires no incisions or stitches, and patients typically continue to wear their normal shoes as the area heals. When infection is present, Dr. Glass will prescribe antibiotics to prevent it from spreading.


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