What Causes an Ingrown Nail?
The most common explanation that I have been given by patients is the way the nails are cut. Many of them tell me that they always round their nails when they cut them and they have learned through various sources that they should be cutting the nails straight across. Other patients are frustrated because they always cut their nails straight across and they still get them. So which is it? First, I admit that I have never read any evidence based medical literature that supports either technique. What we do know is that there appears to be a genetic trait. Ingrown nails do tend to run in families so some people are just more prone to get them. Other contributing factors include shoe gear that is too tight and can damage the nails and force them to grow into the skin and the infamous pedicure in which bacteria can be introduced into the nail fold, causing inflammation and infection.
Patients usually attempt various treatments or home remedies before coming to see me. They are put on antibiotics by a primary care doctor or try foot soaks. Some even attempt “bathroom surgery” to resolve the issue on their own. In the end, the only way to truly resolve an ingrown nail is by a minor nail procedure. After numbing the toe with a shot (yes, it does sting), the entire ingrown nail border is removed. Often, acid is placed in the corner of the nail to kill the very side of the nail growth plate so that, while the nail will grow normally, it shouldn’t ingrow anymore.
Because this can be largely genetic, ingrown nails can be difficult to prevent. However, there are things that can be done to help. First, trim your nails reasonably. Trimming straight across or rounding the nails slightly is fine. Avoid trimming the nails too short. Properly fitting shoes are important as well. Any shoes that squeeze the toes should not be worn. If you feel that you are getting an ingrown nail, don’t pick at it yourself as this can increase your chance of getting an infection. Come see your favorite podiatrist and let us take care of it for you!
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Jonathan Williamson, DPM