When It’s Time to Seek Medical Treatment for an Ingrown Toenail

Ingrown Toenail

Ingrown toenails seem like a small problem that shouldn’t need medical attention, but they often cause extreme pain and infections. And if you’re active and involved in sports, this painful problem can become a recurring issue that keeps you out of the game.

Our team at Cascade Orthopedics & Sports Medicine in Hood River and The Dalles, Oregon, provides comprehensive podiatry services for all causes of foot and ankle pain, including ingrown toenails. We explain what causes this painful condition and when you should seek medical care.

Ingrown toenails explained

An ingrown toenail occurs when the side of the nail grows into the surrounding skin (instead of over it). Though this problem usually affects the big toe, it can occur in any toe.

The top three causes of ingrown toenails include:

Tight-fitting shoes

When your shoes press against your toes, the pressure pushes the nail into your skin.

High-intensity activities  

Long-distance running and sports requiring explosive movements like kicking, jumping, sprinting, and rapidly changing direction can cause ingrown toenails by putting excessive pressure on your toe.

Improper nail trimming

Nothing invites an ingrown toenail more than cutting your toenails too short or in a rounded shape. Both problems let the skin fold over the nail, and as the nail grows, it goes deep into the skin. You should cut your toenails straight across and leave them long enough that the nail edges are over the skin.

Treating ingrown toenails at home

If you catch the ingrown toenail early, and it’s not infected or painful, you can try treating the nail at home. Home treatments include:

However, don’t try to dig the nail out. That only increases your risk of infection. Call us if you have any questions about what to do. We can help you decide if it’s safe to treat at home or if you should seek medical attention.

When ingrown toenails need medical care

One of the challenges of an ingrown toenail is that it can quickly turn from a seemingly minor problem into an infection. For this reason, it’s often best to see our foot specialist right away. 

You should always seek medical attention when:

You have serious pain

Pain that makes it hard to put on your shoes or walk is a red flag telling you to get medical care before an infection develops.

You have an infection

There’s no question you should seek medical care when you have an infected ingrown toenail. Untreated toenail infection can spread and cause dangerous health issues like skin and bone infections.

Signs of an infection include increased redness, swelling, discharge from the area, throbbing pain, warmth, and sometimes an unpleasant odor.

You have diabetes

People with diabetes should always seek professional care at the first sign of an ingrown toenail (or any foot problem). High blood sugar damages your blood vessels, which disrupts circulation and interferes with healing. As a result, foot problems progress, forming an ulcer that won’t heal without intensive wound care.

You are a competitive athlete

Professional medical care for an ingrown toenail promotes healing and gets you back in the game faster than waiting to see if at-home treatments work. We can also determine if your athletic shoes or activities increase your risk of developing ingrown toenails and give you some tips for preventing the problem.

You have recurrent ingrown toenails

Professional foot care can prevent future problems for people struggling with recurrent ingrown toenails.

If you have questions about caring for an ingrown toenail or need medical care, call Cascade Orthopedics & Sports Medicine Center or request an appointment online today.

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