Ingrown toenails are notorious for being painful, uncomfortable, frustrating - and they can make wearing your favourite shoes near impossible if they close in around the toes. Being one of the most common conditions that our Christchurch podiatrists see and treat, it’s not uncommon for us to see a pink and swollen ingrown toenail that has been left untreated for several weeks while its owner was waiting for it to heal on its own.
It’s not an illogical assumption - after all, red and swollen pimples on our skin will go away on their own eventually, so why can’t ingrown toenails? The answer is all in the cause and the process of the ingrown toenail.
No, Ingrown Toenails Don’t Heal On Their Own
If you’re currently suffering from an ingrown toenail, this means that part of your toenail (down at the tender side) has pierced the surrounding skin and is now growing into this skin - often getting deeper as the nail continues to grow. Think of it like a large, sharp splinter that has pierced your toenail, with part of it residing in your toe and part of it on the outside. Each time you walk, the splinter moves slightly, causing more pain.
As the splinter analogy illustrates, the problem here is that the piece of nail that has grown into your skin won’t actually go away on its own - especially when your toenail is securely anchored to the top of the toe and won’t be budging anytime soon. Hence, the only way to get rid of the ingrown toenail is to remove the portion of the nail (or nail spicule) that has pierced and penetrated your skin.
Understanding the process behind an ingrown toenail that creates an open wound also explains why ingrown nails can bleed and have discharge from the side of the nail, as well as why they get so sore and swollen. Unfortunately, as with any open cut in your body, an ingrown toenail makes your toe vulnerable to infection, which is magnified given the location of your toe so close to the ground and dirt from floor surfaces. This is why many ingrown nails get that pus-like yellow discharge, too.
How Is An Ingrown Toenail Treated?
There are several ways that our podiatrists can fix your ingrown toenail that is done through our Ingrown Toenail Clinic, the only clinic in Christchurch dedicated to the diagnosis, treatment, management and prevention of ingrown toenails.
One-off removal of the problematic nail edge
If this is your first ingrown toenail, your ingrown nail is relatively mild, or the cause of your ingrown toenail is something that is unlikely to cause you problems again, then we may recommend simply removing the offending nail edge using our specialist podiatric instruments.
This is often completed within a few minutes, and while it is typically not very painful, you do have the option of numbing your toe with local anaesthetic. We only remove a small and specific part of your toenail, at the side of the nail, that is causing your pain. Once removed, you’ll notice an instant reduction in pain and pressure, and you’ll also notice an immediate difference in pain when pressing on the side of your toe with your fingers. Your toe will likely need the rest of the day for the swelling to settle, the healing process to kickstart, and for the tenderness to resolve completely.
Partial nail avulsion (PNA) procedure
If you’ve had recurring ingrown toenails, your ingrown nail is severe, you have complications like significant skin overgrowth on your nail, or the cause of your ingrown toenail is something that is likely to be a problem again in the future (like your choice of footwear or nail cutting technique), then we may recommend a minor surgical procedure called a partial nail avulsion.
Don’t worry - this is a very common and routine procedure that our podiatrists perform almost daily. It is completed in your regular treatment chair with your podiatrist - but with a few extra precautions. PNA’s are performed under local anaesthetic making every procedure painless.
Your podiatrist will use specialist surgical tools to remove a small section of your toenail, including the offending nail spicule. We then apply a chemical called phenol to target the nail-growing cells at the base of the nail - meaning this small section of nail is unlikely to grow back and continue to cause you problems in the future. This makes the procedure a permanent solution for ingrown toenails, which is much appreciated by our patients (aside from the odd case of regrowth where the body repairs the nail growing cells).
Effective Treatment Means Understanding The Cause Of Your Ingrown Nail
Here at Merivale Podiatry, we believe that a crucial part of your treatment is also understanding the cause of your ingrown toenail, to help prevent it from recurring in the future - as well as reducing your likelihood of developing an ingrown toenail on a different toe. We’ll discuss the likely cause of your ingrown toenail during your appointment, and give you our prevention tips, tricks and insights - including showing you how to trim your toenails in the best way to minimise your ingrown nail risk, and the best type of clippers to help you get the job done well.
Another common cause of ingrown toenails that we see around this time of year in kids is from their school shoes, after having spent the summer largely wearing jandals. If you bring in their school shoes to their appointment with us, we can check their size and fit to help give you reassurance if you’re feeling unsure if it’s time for a new pair. This may be more common than parents realise - after research in Australia found that when 2000 children were measured, 67% were wearing shoes that were too small.
Final Thoughts And Tips
- Ingrown toenails do not go away on their own. Pain will continue for as long as the nail keeps penetrating the surrounding skin
- Ingrown toenails that remain untreated are vulnerable to infection, as well as worsening pain, swelling and discomfort
- Podiatrists offer both simple and surgical solutions to ingrown toenails, including permanent ingrown nail correction
- It’s equally as important to understand the specific cause of your ingrown toenail, to reduce the likelihood of the problem recurring and minimise the risk of your other toenails becoming ingrown