Ingrown toenails, though often regarded as a minor nuisance, can escalate into serious health concerns if neglected. In this article, we explore why it’s important to address this common foot condition and not ignore it (trust us on this one).
Understanding Ingrown Toenails
Ingrown toenails, primarily affecting the big toe, develop when the nail edge grows into the skin of the toe, often breaking the surface of the skin. This condition not only causes discomfort but can also lead to more serious complications if left untreated. Understanding the causes and early symptoms is crucial for effective management and prevention.
Key Causes of Ingrown Toenails:
Improper Toenail Trimming: Perhaps the most common cause of ingrown toenails is incorrect trimming technique. Cutting toenails too short or rounding the edges can encourage the sides of the nail to curl downwards and grow into the skin.
Tight Footwear: Shoes that don’t fit properly, especially those with a narrow toe box, can compress the toes and toenails. This constant pressure can alter the natural growth direction of the nail, leading it to grow into the surrounding skin.
Toe Injuries: Any trauma to the toe, such as stubbing, heavy objects falling on it, or repetitive activities like kicking a ball, can result in the nail growing incorrectly.
Congenital Nail Deformities: Some individuals are born with toenail deformities or have nails that are naturally more curved. This genetic predisposition can increase the likelihood of developing ingrown toenails.
Recognising the Symptoms:
- Initial Discomfort: One of the first signs is a minor discomfort around the toenail, particularly after wearing tight shoes or performing activities that put pressure on the toes.
- Noticeable Redness and Swelling: As the condition progresses, the affected toe may become red and swollen, indicating inflammation.
- Pain and Tenderness: The area around the ingrown nail becomes increasingly painful and tender to touch, often exacerbated by pressure from shoes.
- Infection Indicators: In some cases, an infection can develop, characterised by increased warmth, pus, and sometimes, a foul smell.
Early recognition and treatment of these symptoms are vital. Simple measures like adjusting your toenail trimming technique or changing footwear can often prevent the progression of ingrown toenails. However, if the condition persists or worsens, consulting a Podiatrist is essential to prevent serious complications and obtain appropriate treatment.
Myths and Misconceptions
Myth: Ingrown Toenails Always Heal on Their Own
Reality: While mild cases of ingrown toenails might improve with proper home care, many instances require professional intervention. Ignoring or expecting self-resolution can lead to worsening of the condition.
Myth: Soaking the Foot Always Fixes the Problem
Reality: While foot soaks can provide temporary relief and help with minor inflammation, they are not a cure for ingrown toenails. Soaks can soften the skin and make it easier to trim the nail, but they do not address the underlying growth issue.
Myth: Ingrown Toenails are Only a Cosmetic Issue
Reality: Ingrown toenails are not just a cosmetic problem but a health concern. Left untreated, they can lead to infections and other complications, especially in individuals with diabetes or poor circulation.
Myth: Cutting a V-Notch in the Nail Will Cure It
Reality: A common misconception is that cutting a V-notch in the end of the toenail will cause it to grow away from the flesh. However, this does not affect the nail’s growth pattern and can potentially worsen the problem.
Myth: Surgery is the Only Treatment Option
Reality: Surgery is not always necessary. In many cases, a Podiatrist can treat ingrown toenails with less invasive methods, such as lifting the nail and placing a small splint underneath it. Surgery is reserved for more severe or recurrent cases.
If you’re not sure, our Podiatrists can let you know the best course of action for your toenail.
Myth: You Can Always Treat Ingrown Toenails at Home
Reality: Home treatments can be useful for mild cases but are not a substitute for professional care. Persistent pain, signs of infection, or recurrent ingrown toenails necessitate a visit to a Podiatrist.
A Podiatrist’s role is crucial in accurately diagnosing and treating ingrown toenails. They can assess the severity of the condition, consider any underlying health issues, and recommend the most effective course of action, whether it be conservative management or surgical intervention.
By dispelling these myths, you can seek timely and appropriate treatment, preventing unnecessary discomfort and complications.
4 Risks of Untreated Ingrown Toenails
Ignoring an ingrown toenail can lead to a range of complications, some of which can significantly impact your overall foot health. Understanding these risks is essential for timely and appropriate care.
1. Risk of Localised Infection
The area where the nail digs into the skin is prone to infection. Signs of an infected ingrown toenail include increased redness, warmth, swelling, and pus. If left untreated, these infections can become quite severe, leading to symptoms like throbbing pain and fever.
2. Long-term Complications
In more severe cases, especially when left untreated for an extended period, the infection can spread to the underlying bone structure, leading to a more serious bone infection (osteomyelitis). This condition requires immediate medical intervention and can have long-lasting effects on foot health.
3. Permanent Changes in the Toenail and Surrounding Tissues
Chronic ingrown toenails can lead to permanent changes in the affected area. This includes thickening of the surrounding skin, changes in the toenail’s shape, and even the formation of granulation tissue, which is extra tissue that bleeds easily and may require surgical removal.
4. Financial Cost of Delaying Treatment
Delaying treatment for an ingrown toenail can result in escalating healthcare costs. Initial consultations and treatments are generally more affordable and less invasive. However, as the severity of the condition increases, so does the cost of treatment – ranging from more frequent podiatry visits to surgical procedures and post-operative care. These costs can be a significant financial burden, especially for those without comprehensive health insurance.
Our cost for an initial consultation is just £30.
When to Seek Help from a Podiatrist
Seeking professional treatment for an ingrown toenail is a decision that should not be delayed, especially when certain symptoms persist or worsen. Understanding when to consult a Podiatrist can prevent further complications and ensure quick relief. You should come and see one of our team if you are experiencing any of the following:
Persistent Pain and Redness: If you experience ongoing pain and redness around your toenail that doesn’t improve with basic home care, it’s a clear indicator that professional intervention is needed. Chronic discomfort often signifies that the toenail is continuing to grow into the skin, potentially leading to more serious issues.
Signs of Infection: Infections are a major concern with ingrown toenails. Indicators like pus, drainage, or an unpleasant odour from the affected toe necessitate immediate medical attention. Left untreated, these infections can spread, causing further complications.
- Recurring Ingrown Toenails: Some individuals may experience ingrown toenails repeatedly. This recurrence can be due to various factors, including foot structure, nail growth patterns, or lifestyle habits. Frequent ingrown toenails require a Podiatrist’s expertise to address the underlying cause and prevent future occurrences.
What to Expect During a Podiatry Visit
Consulting a Podiatrist at the early signs of trouble can drastically reduce the risk of complications.
The Foot Assessment
During your visit, the podiatrist will assess your toe and discuss your medical history. They might ask about your foot care routines, footwear, and any previous occurrences of foot problems. Based on this assessment, they will recommend the most suitable treatment plan.
Podiatrists can offer a range of treatments, from conservative methods like splinting and proper nail cutting techniques to more advanced procedures such as partial nail avulsion or matrixectomy, depending on the severity of the condition.
Beyond treating the immediate problem, podiatrists also provide valuable advice on preventing ingrown toenails in the future. This includes guidance on proper foot care, suitable footwear, and, if necessary, changes to your foot hygiene routine.
You can read our blog about ingrown toenail surgery for more details on the nail surgery itself.
Addressing ingrown toenails promptly is crucial for maintaining overall foot health. Seeking professional Podiatry and Chiropody care at the first sign of discomfort can prevent a range of complications, from infection to chronic pain.
Remember, your feet carry you through life; taking care of them is important!
DISCLAIMER: All content within this column is provided for general information only and should not substitute for the medical advice of your own doctor or any other health care professional. S57 Health & Wellbeing Clinic is not responsible or liable for any diagnosis made by a user based on the content of this site.