Does Your Ingrown Toenail Require Medical Attention?

While an ingrown nail can occur on either the hands or the feet, they’re most common in the toes, especially in the big toes. Ingrown toenails occurs for one of two reasons:

  1. The skin grows over the nail itself, on one or both sides
  2. The nail grows into the surrounding skin

No matter the cause, the initial result is usually a painful, red swelling at the corner of the nail. This may be followed by an infection. If an infection occurs, you’ll likely see a small amount of pus ooze from the cut.

At Quantum Foot and Ankle Group, PC in Woodcliff Lake, New Jersey, J. Adrian Wright, DPM, MS, and his team are very experienced in treating ingrown toenails. They want you to understand the causes and symptoms of ingrown toenails so you can understand when you can treat them at home and when you should get medical attention.

The stages of an ingrown toenail

Ingrown toenails usually progress in three stages:

Stage 1

As the nail first digs into the tissue, typical symptoms include pain at the corner of the nail and inflammation and swelling of the toe. 

Stage 2

If the toe isn’t treated in the first stage, the inflammation often leads to infection in the skin. The toe may leak blood, pus, or both.

Stage 3

If the infection isn’t treated, you may develop granulation tissue, which is new skin that grows over the open infection, which can perpetuate and worsen the infection.

Causes of ingrown toenails

There are a number of reasons why ingrown toenails can occur, including the following:

At-home treatments

As soon as you notice your toenail is becoming ingrown, you can start with at-home remedies to prevent progression to an infection. Some suggestions include:

If you don’t see an improvement in 2-3 days, or if the condition worsens, including becoming infected, make an appointment to see Dr. Wright.

When to see a physician

If you have swelling, pain, excessive inflammation, and discharge from your ingrown nail, you need to see a physician, because these symptoms indicate that there’s an infection.

If a skin infection is left untreated, it could lead to a bone infection in the affected toe. A toenail infection could also lead to open sores, known as foot ulcers, and a loss of adequate blood flow to the infected area. In addition, tissue decay and tissue death at the infection site could be possible.

An infection could be even more serious if you have diabetes. Because of a lack of blood flow to the extremities, an infection could quickly worsen. Furthermore, if you have diabetes, you have a higher chance of having peripheral neuropathy.

With peripheral neuropathy, there’s a lack of nerve sensitivity in the extremities, which means you may not feel the ingrown toenail in your foot, and an infection could worsen without your knowledge. Because of this, it’s imperative that you check your feet daily if you have diabetes.

Professional treatments for ingrown toenails

Dr. Wright has a number of treatment options at his disposal. What he recommends for you will depend on your situation. Among the options are the following:

If the ingrown toenail causes you a lot of pain or if the infection keeps returning, Dr. Wright may recommend removing part of the nail (partial nail avulsion). With this treatment, Dr. Wright injects your toe with an anesthetic and uses scissors to cut away the ingrown part. According to the UK National Health Service, partial nail avulsion is 98% effective in preventing future ingrown toenails. 

If you have an ingrown toenail, Dr. Wright can help. To learn more, book an appointment online or over the phone with Quantum Foot and Ankle Group, PC today.

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