What is an ingrowing toenail?
When the edge of the toenail digs into the skin fold beside the nail, the skin becomes red, hot, tender and swollen. This is an ingrowing toenail. Sometimes bacteria from the skin get into the inflamed skin and an infection begins. This results in much more inflammation, which may spread throughout the toe, or into the foot. Pus may also discharge from the edge of the nail.
Can I treat an ingrowing toenail myself?
If the nail is only mildly inflamed, trimming it straight across and easing the nail out of the irritated area in the nail fold can help. Salt baths can help reduce the inflammation. Salt water, or saline solution, can be made by boiling a pint of water and then adding a teaspoon of salt. The solution lasts 24 hours, and should obviously be allowed to cool before use.
When should I take professional advice?
If redness and tenderness go beyond the toe, it may be infected and you should see your doctor as soon as possible.
If you have an ingrowing toenail that is not getting better with simple treatment and is interfering with your life it is worth contacting your GP or a chiropodist.
What can be done about it?
First the chiropodist will want to check that you have tried all the simple measures outlined above. If so, and if the nail is not getting better, it is usually best to partially or completely remove the nail to allow the nail to heal. This is usually done under local anaesthetic injected at the base of your toe.
Following surgery it is necessary to clean the nail bed with salt water, and dress it regularly, daily to start with. Many ingrowing toenails will heal after this treatment, but many others will not. If the ingrowing toenail recurs it is often best to remove the corner of the nail bed to stop the edge of the nail growing again. This may be done either by burning the nail bed out with a chemical (phenol) or by cutting it out surgically.
What will the toe look like after it has been removed?
If only the edge of the nail has been removed, the nail will look similar to before treatment, although it will be a little narrower. If the whole nail has been removed the “bed” where the nail has been removed will just be a flat area of skin.