Foot Health 101: Symptoms and Causes of Ingrown Toenail Infections

Foot Health 101: Symptoms and Causes of Ingrown Toenail Infections

Foot health is an important aspect of overall wellbeing. Find out here the symptoms and causes of an ingrown toenail infection.

In 2012, 17% of adult Americans reported their feet being in poor health or bad condition.

Whether it’s due to bunions or ingrown toenails, almost a quarter of Americans suffer from foot pain. Even still, the average adult makes 5,000 to 7,000 steps per day. 

Whether you’re walking or not, an ingrown toenail infection is painful. But symptoms are often worse while wearing shoes, as shoes put pressure on the nail. 

The most common symptom of an ingrown toenail is pain, though many other symptoms may accompany that pain.

Are you worried that you might have an ingrown toenail that’s either infected or on its way to being infected? 

Foot health is important. Tackle your toe pain by scrolling down to find out what all the symptoms and causes are of an infected ingrown toenail.

What Is an Ingrown Toenail?

An ingrown toenail occurs when the corners or edges of the nail grow into the skin right next to the nail.

Even though you can treat an ingrown toenail at home, they often require medical treatment, especially if they become infected. 

It can happen to anyone, and the big toe is much more likely to get an ingrown toenail, but your risk for complications is higher if you have diabetes or another condition that causes poor circulation.

If an infection is left untreated, the infection may spread to the underlying bone of the foot.

What Causes Ingrown Toenails?

Ingrown nails are painful. While not all of these potential causes are avoidable, try to avoid the ones that you can.

  • Wearing shoes that crowd your toenails
  • Sustaining a toenail injury (like dropping something on your toe or stubbing it)
  • Poor posture
  • Cutting your toenails too short
  • Not cutting your toenails straight across (cutting lower on the corners)
  • Having unusually curved toenails
  • Wearing footwear that is too tight, flat, or narrow for your feet
  • Wearing stockings that are too tight

Sometimes you can feel or see an ingrown toenail beginning, and it’s possible to reverse it by doing things like wearing open-toes shoes, cutting your nails straight across, and letting them grow out first.

Certain Activities Can Make You More Susceptible

Opting to use your feet extensively can make you more prone to ingrown toenails. Sports like football, soccer, ballet, and kickboxing are those which require extensive foot activity. 

These sports also involve constricting footwear at times. Plus, when you put pressure on your feet for long periods or repeatedly kick an object, you can cause toenail damage which increases your risk of acquiring an ingrown toenail.

How Is an Ingrown Toenail Diagnosed?

Your doctor, especially a skilled podiatrist, should be able to diagnose you on the spot. If it looks as if there is an infection, your doctor may prescribe an x-ray to determine how deep the nail has grown into the skin.

An x-ray may be able to disclose other details, like whether or not the ingrown nail was the result of an injury.

What Are the Symptoms of an Ingrown Nail?

While an ingrown toenail starts as something small, it can escalate quickly. It’s crucial to pay attention to early symptoms to prevent infection and other potential complications.

Some of the symptoms associated with an ingrown nail are as follows:

  • Painful to the touch
  • Pressure under the nail
  • Swelling
  • Redness or hardening of the skin around the nail
  • A foul smell
  • Oozing or build-up of fluid
  • Bleeding
  • Throbbing pain
  • Warmth on the skin around the nail
  • Overgrowth of new and inflamed tissue around the edges of the nail
  • Thick, cracking, and yellowing nails
  • A pus-filled abscess where the nail has punctured the skin

Don’t ignore your ingrown toenail symptoms. Get treatment as soon as you can to prevent infection or further complications.

What Are the Treatment Options?

You’ll either be able to treat the ingrown nail at home or have to visit a medical office where you may need minor surgery.

If your ingrown nail isn’t showing any signs of infection, you may be able to skip the doctor, especially if your nail grows out and begins to heal on its own.

If you want to try and treat it yourself first, try soaking your feet in warm water for 15 to 20 minutes 3 to 4 times a day. Keep your feet dry during other times of the day.

You can try pushing the skin away from your toenail’s edge with a cotton ball soaked in olive oil.

Use an over-the-counter pain reliever like Tylenol or Motrin for any pain. You can also apply a topical ointment, like Neosporin, to prevent infection.

You can try your home treatment for anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. But if you have pain and it worsens, or if your nail prevents you from doing normal daily activities, see a doctor immediately.

If you notice any signs of infection, like redness, swelling, pus, or warm to the touch, seek medical attention.

What Does Surgery Entail?

If your ingrown toenail was caused by thickening, you’ll likely have your entire nail removed, for which a local anesthetic would be used.

Partial nail removal is usually effective, so it’s rarer to remove the entire nail.

During a partial removal of the nail, the sides will be cut down, so the edges are straight. Cotton placed under the remaining portion of the nail will prevent the ingrown toenail from coming back.

Don’t Ignore an Ingrown Toenail Infection

An ingrown toenail infection is dangerous if left untreated. The worse an infection gets, the more likelihood there is of the infection moving to the underlying bone of the foot.

Plus, it’s painful. If you notice any signs of an ingrown toenail, treat it immediately. And if you notice signs of infection, request an appointment or contact us before it gets worse.

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