Ingrown Toenails - When Nails Go Rogue

The pieces and parts of your body are designed to work together and protect you. Most of the time, they do this well. Sometimes, however, problems can cause changes or growth that harms instead of helps. An ingrown toenail develops when an edge of your nail goes “rogue” and grows incorrectly—causing pain and potential infections along the way.

Rogue Nail Growth

An ingrown toenail is a painful problem that results when the hard keratin tissue that makes up your nail does not grow straight. Something causes an edge to grow to the side, where it curves and pushes into the soft skin tissue. The more it grows, the more it pinches the skin. Sometimes it even pierces the tissue. The area around the rogue nail hurts and becomes tender. Often it appears red and inflamed. Sometimes it swells as well.

This damage to your skin can open your toe to infections, especially if the nail has punctured it. Sometimes you’ll notice a liquid or pus-filled discharge. If the skin feels warm to the touch, or you notice a foul odor, your toe may be infected. This is a particularly dangerous risk for anyone with a condition that damages the immune system, like diabetes, since your body has a harder time dealing with pathogens.

Curling the Keratin

Many different problems can lead to an ingrown toenail. Anything that causes the nail to curve or grow incorrectly can result in this condition, whether it’s the natural shape of your nail, or there has been trauma to your toe. Shoes that squeeze or cramp the ends of your digits is one of the most common causes. Trimming the keratin incorrectly is another frequent culprit. However, the shape of your nail can influence its growth as well. If your nails naturally curve, especially on the sides, then you may be more prone to the problem.

An injury to the end of your nail could also force a change. Repeated minor trauma to the ends of your toes over time—like bumping them against running shoes—can cause curling. A sudden injury, like stubbing your toe, can also do damage.

Excising the Discomfort

An ingrown toenail will not improve without treatment. The keratin continues to grow more and more inward, compounding the damage to your digit and increasing your pain. Dr. Victoria Melhuish can examine your affected toe and determine the extent of your condition. Our trained staff will also investigate the cause of your problem, to see if your footwear or other controllable conditions may be the culprits. From there we can help you relieve your discomfort.

We may be able to lift a mildly ingrown nail away from your skin to relieve pain. A small splint or wad of cotton may be used to keep the edge away from your skin so it grows straighter. Badly ingrown nails, however, will have to be cut away. We will carefully numb your toe and excise the offending edge. In some cases, the whole nail will need to be removed. We will also need to treat any infection in the soft tissues. If you suffer from recurring ingrown nails, you may need to have the keratin tissue removed and permanently stunted so it can’t regrow and cause problems.

Fortunately, there are ways you can prevent this problem too. Wearing properly fitted shoes that don’t squeeze the toes can help. Sometimes socks can make a difference, so make sure they aren’t too tight either. You’ll need to trim your nails correctly as well. Clip them straight across the top, leaving the edges intact, and be sure to not cut them too short.

If you do develop an ingrown toenail, know that you don’t have to suffer through the pain—or risk infections that could cause additional problems. Instead, let our team help you maintain your lower limb comfort. Contact Sierra Foot & Ankle in Carson City or Gardnerville, NV, for an appointment or more information. You can reach us by calling (775) 783-8037 or submitting our online contact form.