When Does an Ingrown Toenail Require Medical Assistance?

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When Does an Ingrown Toenail Require Medical Assistance?

People of all ages get ingrown toenails. Most ingrown toenails aren’t serious and can be treated at home. Here’s how to know when to see a doctor for an ingrown toenail.

Most ingrown toenails aren’t a cause for concern, resolving on their own with proper home care. Left untreated, however, ingrown toenails can expose your skin to bacteria, which can lead to pain, swelling, and an infection that could become severe. 

Ingrown toenails affect all ages and are common. In fact, about 1 in 5 people who visit a doctor for foot problems has an ingrown toenail.

At Hansen Foot & Ankle in Mill Creek, Washington, Nathan D. Hansen, DPM, offers treatment for ingrown toenails that don’t heal with at-home treatment methods.

What is an ingrown toenail?

An ingrown toenail is when the edge of a nail grows into the toe, instead of out and away from the skin. Ingrown toenails most commonly affect the big toe, causing swelling and pain.

You can often manage the inflammation on your own if you treat the ingrown toenail in time. But for people with a weakened immune system or diabetes, the inflammation can spread.

You know you have an ingrown toenail because it hurts a lot when you stand or walk. When you look at the toe, you may see that the edge of the nail is starting to grow into the skin and that the toe around the nail is red and slightly inflamed.

What causes ingrown toenails?

The most common cause of ingrown toenails is trimming your nails incorrectly or too short. You should cut your nails straight across rather than rounding them at the edges to follow the shape of your toe.

Other causes of ingrown toenails or factors that increase your risk of an ingrown toenail include:

  • Wearing shoes that are too tight
  • Being overweight
  • Taking medications to treat cancer
  • Having sweaty feet
  • Having diabetes or a condition that causes water retention in your feet

You’re also at a greater risk of ingrown toenails if you have tube-shaped nails that curve drastically around the toes.

Home treatment for ingrown toenails

Try the following treatments at the first sign of an ingrown toenail:

  • Soak the foot in warm, soapy water with Epsom salts three times a day for 20 minutes
  • Soak the foot in warm water combined with ¼ cup of apple cider vinegar for 20 minutes
  • Use waxed dental floss under the nail to gently lift it from the toe
  • Use over-the-counter antibiotic ointments and cover with a bandage
  • Wear shoes that fit properly, go barefoot, or wear sandals until the toe heals

If the ingrown toenail doesn’t respond to home treatment, it may be time to visit Hansen Foot & Ankle.

When to see a doctor for an ingrown toenail

You should schedule an appointment with Dr. Hansen if you notice the toe producing pus or if new, inflamed tissue is growing around the edges of the affected toenail. You should also see a doctor if the skin around the toenail has started growing over the nail.

Contact Hansen Foot & Ankle if you have an ingrown toenail that’s not responding to home treatment. If you’re diabetic and notice an ingrown toenail, don’t wait to see if the toe heals. Call the office or request your appointment online today.