With summer well underway, you’re probably thinking about switching up your footwear. But whether you’re breaking out the hiking boots to hit the trails or finding the perfect pair of flip flops for the lake, you know nailcare is important. Unfortunately, choosing footwear for summer becomes a pain when an ingrown toenail decides to show up to the party. While ingrown toenails are treatable and usually clear up within a few days, they can be painful—and there can be consequences if they are left untreated.
We spoke with Fairview Range podiatrist, Dr. Stacey Helland, to learn more about ingrown toenails, surgical and nonsurgical treatment options, and the possibility of reoccurrence with this condition.
Most commonly found on the big toe, an ingrown toenail, when left untreated, can oftentimes become infected. Pain, inflammation, swelling, and sometimes discharge can occur. In this case, the infection should be treated by a physician immediately. The nail can sometimes be surgically removed to help the underlying nail bed grow properly.
“Ingrown toenail procedures are very common and are typically performed in the office,” says Dr. Helland. “They may, however, be occasionally performed in the operating room for very young patients who will not tolerate the local injection in the toe, or for individuals who have attempted multiple ingrown toenail border removals, but the toenail has continued to grow back.”
When it comes to recovery following the ingrown toenail procedure, it’s important for a patient to only perform light activity on the affected area.
“Ingrown toenails most commonly require only the border of the nail to be removed (instead of removing the entire toenail),” explains Helland. “The toe requires a bandage for 2-3 weeks while it is draining, but routine activities can usually be performed during that 2-3-week period with minimal pain.”
There are non-surgical options available to those who are suffering with an ingrown toenail, which include temporary treatments of soaking the foot daily and wearing comfortable shoes or sandals until it clears up—but keep in mind that problems can occur if you aggravate the area or choose not to take action.
“Treating an ingrown toenail by cutting the ingrown toenail tip, placing cotton under the ingrown toenail, and performing Epsom salt soaks can sometimes temporarily treat an ingrown toenail; however, recurrence rates for ingrown toenails are very high,” cautions Helland. “If an individual has a history of multiple ingrown toenails and/or infected ingrown toenails, it is recommended to have it evaluated by a podiatrist to discuss treatment options. If an ingrown toenail is infected, it should be treated as soon as possible. In severe cases, untreated ingrown toenails can infect the underlying bone and lead to a bone infection which may require long term antibiotics or even amputation of the digit.”
If your podiatrist or physician recommends the surgical route when it comes to your ingrown toenail, it’s important to understand and follow-through with instructions for aftercare.
“The bandage is left on for the remainder of the day after an ingrown toenail procedure,” says Helland. “On the following day, it is recommended to do a 20-minute Epsom salt soak one to two times a day followed by a small amount of antibiotic cream, gauze and a bandage, until there is no further drainage from the toe (often two to three weeks).”
If a patient decides not to take proper care of their ingrown toenail after surgery, it can grow back even after the removal.
“If the nail is removed, but it is decided by the patient not to apply the chemical that prevents nail regrowth, the ingrown toenail can grow back,” explains Helland. “Using the chemical to prevent the ingrown nail regrowth greatly reduces the chance that the ingrown nail will return, but there is still a small chance the ingrown nail could regrow.”
Many patients have questions following the surgical procedure regarding how much physical activity is permitted.
“It is advised that patients avoid physical activity for several days following a nail procedure,” Helland recommends. “Activity may resume after several days but expect some discomfort. Swimming in a pool, river, lake or ocean is not recommended until the skin is fully healed (usually 2-3 weeks).”
The best way to prevent ingrown toenails is to protect your feet by wearing shoes and socks that have enough room for your toes and cutting your nails with a clean and sharp nail trimmer without rounding the corners of the nail. If you have additional questions about ingrown toenails, or if you would like to request an appointment, contact Fairview Range at 866-806-7139 or log onto MyChart at https://www.fairview.org/mychart today.