When a toenail is ingrown, the sides or corners of the nail curl down and dig into the skin of the toe, causing swelling, pain and redness.
While many things can cause ingrown toenails, the major causes are shoes that don't fit well and improperly trimmed nails. Shoes that are too tight press the sides of the nail and make it curl into the skin. Nails that are peeled off at the edge or trimmed down at the corners are also more likely to become ingrown.
To avoid ingrown toenails, you should cut your nails straight across. The top of the nail should make a straight line.
When the problem is mild, you may only need to soak your foot in warm water for 15 to 20 minutes and place dry cotton, such as part of a cotton ball, under the corner of the nail. Signs that the problem is getting worse include increasing pain, swelling and drainage of the area. Your doctor may suggest an oral antibiotic or an antibiotic ointment if there are signs of infection. Sometimes minor surgery is needed to remove the part of the nail that is poking into the skin.
Your doctor will first numb your toe by injecting it with an anesthetic. Then he or she will cut your toenail along the edge that is growing into the skin and pull out the piece of nail. Finally, your doctor may apply a small electrical charge or a liquid solution to the exposed part of the nail bed. This keeps the toenail from growing into the skin again. This part of the surgery is called ablation, and your doctor will decide whether it needs to be done. Not all patients need ablation.
Written by familydoctor.org editorial staff