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Ingrown Toenail

Definition

An ingrown toenail is a condition in which one or more of the edges of a toenail grows into the skin of the toe.

What is going on in the body?

Usually one or both sides of the toenail dig into the flesh surrounding the nail. This often causes pain and inflammation.

Risks

What are the causes and risks of the condition?

A person has a higher risk of developing this condition if he or she:
  • has diabetes
  • has circulation problems in the feet
  • has curved toenails
  • clips his or her toenails too short or allows the nails to become too long
  • wears shoes that fit too tightly
  • has thickened toenails

Prevention

What can be done to prevent the condition?

Comfortable, well-fitting shoes help to prevent ingrown toenails. Toenails should be trimmed regularly but not cut too short. People who have diabetes or circulation problems are often advised to have a foot specialist, known as a podiatrist, cut their toenails.

Diagnosed

How is the condition diagnosed?

Diagnosis of ingrown toenail is based on the appearance of the toe and nail plate.

Long Term Effects

What are the long-term effects of the condition?

Ingrown toenails can be quite painful, but the most worrisome long-term effect is infection. When a person has diabetes or circulation problems, the infection can be quite serious. It may lead to complications such as a diabetic foot ulcer or sepsis, a widespread blood infection. Foot amputation or even death can result in this setting if the condition is not treated early.

Other Risks

What are the risks to others?

Ingrown toenails are not contagious, and pose no risk to others.

Treatments

What are the treatments for the condition?

Minor surgery is performed to remove all or part of the toenail. Special devices or even cotton balls may be placed under the edge of the toenail as it grows back to prevent the problem from happening again. Antibiotics are given for any infection present.

Side Effects

What are the side effects of the treatments?

Surgery can be complicated by bleeding, infection, or reactions to anesthesia. Antibiotics can cause allergic reactions, stomach upset, and skin rash.

After Treatment

What happens after treatment for the condition?

After recovery, people are generally able to go back to normal activities. People who have diabetes or circulation problems often require further treatment and monitoring.

Monitor

How is the condition monitored?

People with diabetes or circulation problems need to examine their own feet daily. They need to make regular visits to the healthcare professional, to whom any new or worsening symptoms should be reported.

Sources

Instructions For Patients, 1994, Griffith.

Current Medical Diagnosis and Treatment, 1998, Tierney et al.

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