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Ingrown toe nail called as unguis incarnates or onychocryptosis, is a condition where a sharp corner of toe nail curls into the skin, causing inflammation and pain at the point where it digs in. Afterwards the area of inflammation and pain may spread to other tissues and may drain yellowish fluid.

An unattended ingrown toe nail can cause infection and may create a condition which may need surgical treatment. It can develop osteomyelitis, which is a complicated infection wherein the toe and bone also get infected.

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Ingrown toenails are more common in big toe and mostly young adults of male folk between twenties and thirties suffer from the condition.

Symptoms of ingrown toe nail

Ingrown toe nail is a common disorder which affects the outer edges of toes, particularly the big toe. The common signs are redness, pain, and swelling at the edge of a toenail.

  • At first stage the toe end becomes reddened, is painful with some swelling and without pus or drainage. The toe may be warm without any resultant fever.
  • Afterwards, extra tissue and skin grow around the sharp point of nail and there may be drainage. This may not be an infection, but may be the response of skin to the irritating nail.
  • Later when the infection develops, the swelling becomes worse, and there may a yellow or white colored drainage coming out from the area. The skin may turn red over the area and an individual may develop fever in rare cases.

When to go to a doctor

  • When the ingrown toe nail develops infection, it should be shown to a doctor.

Under the following circumstances, one should consult the doctor, even if the ingrown toe nail is only inflamed:

  • If 5 years have passed from the last tetanus booster shot
  • If it does not improve even after 3 days of home care.
  • Patients under chemotherapy, patients of diabetes, AIDS, and those who have poor immune system are at greater risk of infection and hence require a doctor’s attention for ingrown toe nail.

Causes of ingrown toe nail

  • Wearing tight shoes or high heels exerts pressure on nails to grow abnormally
  • Fungal infection disorder can cause thickened and widened toe nail
  • Adopting improper method of round cutting the nail instead of trimming straight across.
  • People having the rounded nail formation are prone to ingrown toe nail. If a family member possesses ingrown toe nail, others in a family also likely to have ingrown toe nail.
  • Repeated injury and damage to nail can cause the ingrown toe nail

Ingrown toenail home treatment

Home care at the early stage may prevent the need of surgery.

  • Wash the foot with soap water twice a day and keep it dry for rest of the day.
  • Four times a day, soak the foot in plain warm water.
  • Lift the corner of the digging nail and place a cotton wick daily, at least for 15 days, till the nail grow out, so that the nail does not curl into the skin again.
  • Until the condition get cleared wear sandals and avoid tight or high heel shoes.
  • You may take acetaminophen or ibuprofen to get relief from pain.
  • Even after this home treatment for three days, if no relief is experienced, consult the doctor.

Medical treatment for ingrown toenail

Till the infection become acute, traditional treatments such as elevation of nail, soaking of feet in warm water, wearing proper shoes, and frequent cleaning of nail is recommended.

  • The health care provider may choose to use the cotton wick or other types of splints.
  • Occasionally, the doctor may try to change the shape of the nail by cutting the nail down the center.
  • If any extra growth comes out from the inflamed area, doctor may prefer to remove it by numbing the area.

Ingrown toenail surgery

  • Depending on the severity of infection, doctor may go for whole or partial of the affected nail and drain the abscess.
  • A tetanus immunization may be given if 5 years have passed since the last shot, as the open wound due to ingrown toe nail may develop tetanus
  • The doctor may numb the joint that joins the toe with the foot by injecting anesthetic medicine
  • Then the pus drained out and the extra tissue growth removed around the end of the nail.
  • Here the doctor may remove the infected portion of nail or skin and to prevent the further pushing of the nail into it.
  • For chronic or recurrent ingrown toe nails, a lateral matriectomy is performed and a portion of nail bed is removed by a specialist.
  • The doctor may decide to destroy the cells that cause the growth of nails, by applying a chemical, or by the use of laser therapy or cryotherapy at the nail bed. By doing so the problematic nail may not return to cause infections.
  • Antibiotics are not prescribed normally. The affected toenail will then be covered by a bandage and healing cream.

Ingrown toenail pictures



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