An in-growing toenail is a painful condition that usually affects the big toe. It happens when one or both sides of the toenail grow in to flesh either side of the nail. This leads to inflammation and pain, and the area may then become infected. It is most common in adults, especially teenagers, and is very rare in young children.
Why does it happen?
In-growing toenails are usually wide for the toe to which they belong. The problem may be made worse by cutting the toenail incorrectly (see “What can you do to help yourself?”, below), wearing tight-fitting shoes, or by poor personal hygiene.
What are the symptoms?
* Swollen, reddened area at the edge of the nail – this is likely to become increasingly sore and painful.
* Severe pain – this is likely to be worse when you are wearing your shoes or when you walk.
* Pus – if infection enters the area, you may notice pus coming from it.
What can be done about it?
An infection is likely to be treated with antibiotics, and you may be referred to a chiropodist. If the in-growing toenail is very bad you may have to have a small piece of the nail cut away or the whole nail removed under local anaesthetic. This can be done by your GP or a chiropodist. You will not usually need to go in to hospital as more extensive operations are rarely necessary.
What can you do to help yourself?
If you already have an in-growing toenail, you may find the following useful:
* Bath your nail in warm salt water – the solution should be strongly salty (add at least a teaspoon of salt for every pint of liquid). Soak your foot two or three times a day in fresh solution, drying the area very carefully afterward. Once dry, cover the area by a gauze dressing soaked in surgical spirit.
* Make a v-shaped cut in the centre of the nail – this should help ease the pressure on the sides.
* Avoid wearing high heels, tight-fitting shoes and those with pointed toes – plastic and synthetic shoes, such as trainers, should also be avoided. Go barefoot as much as possible.
Once you have had one in-growing toenail, you are more likely to have another. To help prevent recurrence:
* Cut toenails straight across – do not cut down in to nail, especially in to the sides, and do not pull at any splinters that develop.
* Avoid wearing high heels, tight-fitting shoes and those with pointed toes – plastic and synthetic shoes, such as trainers, should also be avoided. Go barefoot as often as possible.
* Keep your feet clean and dry as much as possible – wearing cotton socks and leather shoes will help, as will washing your feet once or twice a day. After bathing your feet, dry carefully around your toes.
* Visit a chiropodist regularly – this is especially important if you are diabetic, as people with diabetes are very prone to having on-going foot problems.