Why You Shouldn't Ignore an Ingrown Toenail

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Why You Shouldn't Ignore an Ingrown Toenail

Ingrown toenails might not seem like a big deal. But, without prompt medical care, they can cause serious complications and even lead to amputation. Here’s why you shouldn’t ignore an ingrown toenail — and what we can do to help.

Ingrown toenails can definitely cause pain, but what many people don’t realize is that they can cause serious complications, too, especially for people with diabetes, circulation problems, or weakened immune systems. Fortunately, prompt medical treatment can help.

Here at Alpine Foot and Ankle, Dr. Andrew McCall offers fast, effective treatment for ingrown toenails, relieving pain and preventing potentially serious complications in patients at our offices in Idaho Falls, Idaho, and Alpine, Wyoming. In this post, learn why seeking medical treatment for your ingrown toenail is so important.

Quick facts about ingrown toenails

Ingrown toenails are extremely common, with studies estimating their prevalence in about 5% to 18% of the population. In fact, millions of Americans wind up with at least one ingrown toenail at some point during their lives. 

Why are they so common? In part, it’s because lots of factors can contribute to ingrown toenails, including:

  • Wearing shoes with tight or pointy toes
  • Trimming nails too short
  • Rounding off the edges of nails
  • Nails that curve inward
  • Wearing high heels
  • Toe injuries
  • Unusual foot shape or walking pattern
  • Athletic activity
  • Obesity

While an ingrown toenail might not seem like a big deal, without proper care, it can lead to a serious infection that can spread to other areas of your feet or even to other parts of your body.

As noted, complications from ingrown toenails tend to be more common among people with diabetes or circulation or immune system disorders. But anyone can develop an ingrown toenail and a subsequent infection, especially when medical treatment is delayed.

Complications of ingrown toenails

Ingrown toenails create openings in your skin. These openings allow bacteria to enter, leading to infections in the surrounding tissue. The warm, moist environment of your shoes provides an ideal breeding ground for bacteria, which is one reason why infections can be especially dangerous.

In the initial stages of an ingrown toenail, you might notice mild discomfort, maybe accompanied by skin that looks red or swollen or feels warm compared to the surrounding skin. Over time, though, the tiny opening in your skin lets bacteria in, increasing your risk of an infection.

As the infection continues, your skin becomes red, swollen, and tender to the touch. You might notice pus oozing from the area surrounding the embedded part of your nail. Wearing shoes can be very uncomfortable at this point, and you might find yourself limping. Changes in your walking pattern can throw off your balance and increase your risk of falls. 

Without prompt medical care, the infection can spread to other parts of your foot or enter your bloodstream and spread to organs and other parts of your body. In the toe itself, deep infections can lead to tissue death and eventual need for amputation.

Ingrown toenail treatment

Ingrown toenail treatment is straightforward, especially when you seek treatment early. In the earliest stages, your toenail may be treated conservatively by soaking your foot and applying topical medicine to reduce inflammation and prevent infection. 

Dr. McCall prescribes oral medicines for more advanced infections. During your visit, he trims away the part of the toenail that’s embedded in your skin to allow the area to heal.

If you have an underlying medical problem that increases your risk of infections, or if you have ingrown toenails on a repeated basis, Dr. McCall may suggest surgery to remove the nail. This in-office procedure is performed using a local anesthetic to numb your toe. Recovery is quick, and afterward, Dr. McCall provides you with complete instructions on caring for the area while it heals. 

Don’t ignore your ingrown toenail

Ingrown toenails might seem minor, but without prompt medical treatment, they can quickly become serious. If you have an ingrown toenail, request an appointment online or over the phone with Dr. McCall and our team at Alpine Foot and Ankle today.