Ingrown toenails can occur on any toe but are most common on the big toes. They usually develop when tight-fitting or narrow shoes put too much pressure on the toenail and force the nail to grow into the flesh of the toe. Incorrect toenail trimming can also contribute to the risk of developing an ingrown toenail. Other causes are:
- Abnormalities in the structure of the foot
- Repeated impact on the toenail from high-impact aerobic exercise
Caring for Toenails. Trim toenails straight across and keep them long enough so that the nail corner is not visible. If the nail is cut too short, it may grow inward. If the nail does grow inward, do not cut the nail corner at an angle. This only trains the nail to continue growing inward. When filing the nails, file straight across the nail in a single movement, lifting the file before the next stroke. Do not saw back and forth. A cuticle stick can be used to clean under the nail.
Treatments. To relieve pain from ingrown toenails, try wearing sandals or open-toed shoes.Soaking the toe for 5 minutes twice a day in a warm water solution of salt, Domeboro or Betadine can help. People who are at increased risk for infections, such as those with diabetes, should have professional treatment.
Antibiotic ointments may help treat ingrown toenails that are infected. Apply the ointment by working a wisp of cotton under the nail, especially the corners, to lift the nail up and drain the infection. The cotton will also help force the toenail to grow out correctly. Change the cotton daily, and use the antibiotic consistently.
In severe cases, more intensive treatments are needed. Surgery involves simply cutting away the sharp portion of ingrown nail, removing the nail bed, or removing a wedge of the affected tissue. Orthonyxia, a newer surgical technique that implants a small metal brace into the top of the nail, may be as effective as traditional surgical techniques for preventing ingrown toenails from recurring.
Nonsurgical methods can also treat ingrown toenails. One technique uses chemicals to remove the skin. Both sodium hydroxide and phenol may be used, but research shows that sodium hydroxide produces a better outcome and faster recovery than phenol. Other nonsurgical methods include using cauterization (heating), or lasers, to remove the skin.
Review Date: 01/30/2011
Reviewed By: Harvey Simon, MD, Editor-in-Chief, Associate Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Physician, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.