October 23, 2018
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Ask the Experts

What Causes Ingrown Toenails?

by Berkeley Wellness  

Q: What causes ingrown toenails, and how can I prevent them?

A: Medically called onychocryptosis, ingrown toenails occur when the edge of a nail, usually on the big toe, cuts into the surrounding skin, causing inflammation, pain, and sometimes infection. Tight shoes and stockings and improper trimming of toenails are the usual culprits. They can also be due to toenail fungus or psoriasis (both of which thicken nails), or they can result from trauma to the nail. The shape of the toenail—an inherited trait—also plays a role, with nails that curve (as opposed to flatter nails) more prone to becoming ingrown.

For mild cases, soak the toe in warm water to soften the nail, then press a small amount of absorbent cotton or small piece of dental floss under the corner of the nail to keep it from cutting the skin. Repeat daily until the nail grows out. If the area continues to be red and swollen or otherwise appears infected, get medical care. Using a sterile technique, a podiatrist or other health care provider can remove a portion or all of the ingrown nail under local anesthesia. If the problem is recurrent, chemical or laser treatment can permanently kill a portion of the nail matrix to prevent the nail from growing back on that side. There are also other surgical options.

Besides making sure your shoes fit properly (with enough “toe room”), good toenail care is key to preventing ingrown nails: Trim your nails straight across; smooth the edges with an emery board or nail file; then clean the grooves at the sides with an “orange stick” manicure tool. If you can’t trim your toenails yourself, consider regular visits to a podiatrist (insurance, including Medicare, may cover the cost) or professional pedicures at a reputable establishment.

Also see Preventing Foot Blisters.