What Causes Ingrown Toenails?

Have you noticed redness or swelling along the side of your big toenail? Does your toe hurt when you put on a shoe or try to take a step? It could be an ingrown nail.

Ingrown toenails happen when your nail grows down into the skin of your toe. Mild ingrown nails may not cause much pain at first, but they can get worse and develop infection if left untreated.

Ingrown nails can make everyday activities painful. If you’re bothered by pain, redness, or swelling on the side of your toenail, trust Lisa Burson, DPM, Joe Aoun, DPM, and our team at The Foot & Ankle Specialists for the best in ingrown toenail care.

Common causes of ingrown toenails

Ingrown toenails form when a sharp corner of your nail presses into the soft skin of your toe. Your nails are naturally hard, and a sharp edge can cause irritation and pain along the side of your toe.

Ingrown nails are most common on your big toes. They can affect just one side or both sides of the toe at once. Anyone can get an ingrown nail, and some of the most common causes are...

Trimming nails too short

Many people trim their fingernails in a rounded shape that follows the curve of their fingers, but trimming your toenails in the same way could result in ingrown nails. Cutting toenails too short or in a curved shape encourages the corners to grow into your skin.

Instead, trim toenails in a straight line. Don’t cut them too short, but don’t let them get so long that they get brittle or broken. If regularly trimming your toenails isn’t easy for you, our team offers professional nail trimming.

Wearing tight shoes

Shoes with narrow toe boxes and shoes that are too small can squeeze your toes together. Regularly wearing poorly fitting shoes can increase your risk of ingrown toenails, because the nails can be pressed into the soft skin around them.

To lower your chances of a painful ingrown nail, wear comfortable, supportive shoes that give your toes room to move. Choose shoes and socks that are breathable to curb sweaty feet. 

Inheriting a curved nail shape

The shape of your fingernails and toenails is passed down to you from your parents. Some people have relatively flat toenails that don’t often turn into ingrown nails, but other people aren’t so lucky.

Having crescent-shaped or curved nails may make ingrown toenails more likely. These nail shapes naturally curve down into the skin of your toes, but trimming your nails properly can help keep ingrown nails from forming.

Professional care for painful toenails

Ingrown toenails are uncomfortable. Mild ingrown nails can improve with at-home care like foot soaks and antibiotic ointment. But if you’re still bothered by symptoms after a few days, make an appointment with our podiatric team.

Never try to remove the ingrown portion of the nail on your own. More severe ingrown nails can get infected, and some people have recurrent ingrown nails. If you have diabetes, an ingrown nail could present a range of health complications.

Dr. Lisa Burson and Dr. Joe Aoun specialize in treating ingrown nails and reducing your risk of suffering another one. We begin by lifting the affected portion of your nail from the surrounding skin.

In some cases, we recommend removing part or all of the nail to keep ingrowns from coming back. This is a simple in-office procedure. If your ingrown nail is infected, we prescribe topical or oral antibiotics to stop it from spreading. 

We give you at-home care instructions as your ingrown nail heals, as well as tips for reducing your risk of ingrown nails in the future.

Learn more about treating and preventing painful ingrown toenails at The Foot & Ankle Specialists. Contact our team online, or call the office nearest you for an appointment.

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