Ingrown nails whether on the fingers or toes develop when the side of the nail starts piercing or cutting into the adjacent skin. This can gradually worsen and develop pain, swelling and infection. It is best that a podiatrist takes a look and assesses the nail and surrounding skin, as intervention may be required. Sometimes they are created because of cutting your nail badly, and other times it may be due to the nail shape, wearing tight shoes or having an injury.
There are however some home remedies that you can try to manage early signs and prevent them from worsening. For minor or early problems you can try some home remedies such as bathing the toe in warm salty water twice a day and then trying to use shoes that are breathable and do not apply pressure to the toe. You can also try applying a small amount of cotton wool between the edge of the nail and skin. This acts as a barrier and like a cushion so it can help the area settle down faster.
It is possible that it can heal itself but the cause is due to the nail breaking the skin so it depends on how badly it is affected. With toenails you have the forces of body weight and shoes exacerbating the issue so this needs to be taken into account, and if any infection is present antibiotics will be required. If the problem is just starting you may be able to try some home remedies to stop it getting worse.
The best treatment will depend on the severity of the ingrowing nail, in principle this will be removing any sharp or jagged edges of the nail and then reducing pressure of the nail on the adjacent skin.
This may include adding a small cushion as a barrier, followed by trimming and filing of the nail. In severe and recurring cases, a minor procedure is required to permanently stop the side of the nail growing in, this can be performed by a podiatrist.
For more severe cases a partial nail avulsion can be carried out where the side of the nail is cut back. For very severe cases, particularly if the nail is deformed, the whole nail can be removed. Both of these procedures are carried out under a local anaesthetic injection.
With ingrown toenails there is a range of severity and generally we do not advise cutting down the side of the nail. If the problem however is at the tip of one of the sides of the nail you may have left a small spike of nail. If you can see the spike clearly and can get to it, you can try trimming and filing it, but care must be taken not to make it worse. If it looks infected you should seek help from your doctor or podiatrist.
If the ingrown nail has been caused because of bad cutting or trauma, it will just need correcting and the problem should settle down. If it is due to the nail shape you may be able to manage it yourself regularly and maintain it to a standard where it does not bother you. If the nail causes problems despite all the conservative care then you may need to see a podiatrist who can carry out nail surgery for a permanent solution.
As mentioned above, a partial or total nail avulsion can be carried out but then chemical phenol applied afterwards. This will destroy the nail root and prevent any regrowth. Using this method takes about one month to fully recover from the phenol, over this time you need to bathe your toe in salty water every day.
If phenol is not appropriate, a Zadik’s procedure can be carried out where the nail is removed and instead of phenol, the root is surgically removed. The procedure is typically carried out under local anaesthesia or sedation. The Zadik’s procedure is usually more painful but recovery is typically faster. Sutures are used in this case and are removed after 2 weeks.
Sometimes, a bump of bone can develop under the nail which affects how the nail grows out. Your specialist will refer for an X-ray to confirm the bone growth. In these cases the bump of bone can be shaved down to flatten the surfaces for the nail to grow out through an exostectomy procedure. The exostectomy procedure is typically carried out under local anaesthesia or sedation and would be arranged in a hospital with a half day admission.