Ingrown toe nails can cause pain and discomfort (especially if the little person (or big person for that matter) in your home likes to walk all over it). If you suspect you have an ingrown toenail, it’s probably best to go see your podiatrist about it, especially if infection is present. Definitely see your foot doctor if you have diabetes, nerve damage, or poor circulation in your foot. Your podiatrist should be able to make the diagnosis by performing a physical exam of your toe. (X-rays and such are pretty much unnecessary in diagnosing an ingrown toenail.)
- If you do not have an infection in your toe, you may be able to get away with just doing some home treatments (unless you’re diabetic or have nerve or circulation problems in your foot). You can soak your foot in warm water or salt water three or four times a day, and gently massage the sides of your nail to help reduce inflammation. Then, apply antiseptic and a bandage over your toe.
- You may want to wear shoes, like sandals, that put no pressure on your toe while it heals. Don’t try to perform the endearingly named “bathroom surgery” by attempting to cut out the ingrown portion of your nail yourself. Also, (although you may have heard different from your best friend’s mother-in-law’s cousin’s wife) doing things like cutting a V-shape in the end of your toenail is pretty much useless. (Some believe that it allows the edges of an ingrown nail to grow together, but nail growth depends on the nail root, not the end of the nail. The V-method simply doesn’t work.)
- If your nail fails to improve, or if you have an infection in your toe or other medical problems, your podiatrist can help bring your ingrown toenail back from the dark side. He or she will likely inject a local anesthetic into the area and remove the side of the nail that’s causing the problem. Your podiatrist may also opt to destroy the portion of your nail root that’s contributing to the ingrown nail (especially if this is a recurring problem for you). This may be done by using acid to destroy the root, or by using a laser. (Who knew treatments for ingrown toenails could be so close to science fiction?)
- Your podiatrist will also likely prescribe an antibiotic to clear up the infection in your toe. (Be sure to take all of the prescribed medication, by the way, even if your symptoms appear to have cleared up.)
- You’ll probably want to stay off your foot and keep it elevated for a few hours, but you should be able to resume many normal activities the next day (although you’ll want to avoid vigorous movements like running for about two weeks). Occasionally, the entire nail may fall off after surgery; a new nail will grow over the next few months, although it will probably be a bit more narrow if your podiatrist has destroyed a portion of the nail root.
With the ingrown portion and accompanying infection taken care of, your toenail should reassume that harmless nature we love so well. Just treat it as well as you can, or it may show its destructive side once again.