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When Does an Ingrown Toenail Require a Visit to the Podiatrist?

Jan 10, 2023
An ingrown toenail might heal on its own, but you may be better off visiting your podiatrist. Learn when to schedule an appointment.

Ideally, your toenail grows straight out from your toe, offering protection against dropped items and stubbings. But your nail doesn’t always do what you want. It can grow into your skin, causing an uncomfortable ingrown nail. 

In the early stages, the ingrown toenail may simply be stiff, swollen, and tender to the touch. Without proper care, though, it can get infected, becoming a painful and persistent problem that makes it hard to wear shoes or walk without wincing in discomfort. 

We can help. Not only does Daniel Cairns, DPM, specialize in treating ingrown toenails, but he also educates patients on when to see him for toenail problems. Some ingrown toenails can be treated at home, while others warrant a visit to our Toe-Tal Foot & Ankle Care office in Watauga, Texas.

So, when should you give us a call? Let’s find out. 

The basics of ingrown toenails

A toenail becomes ingrown when it grows downward into the soft skin tissue along the outer borders of your nail bed.

You’re more likely to get an ingrown toenail if you:

  • Wear narrow footwear that crowds your toes
  • Trim your toenails too short 
  • Taper the corners rather than cutting them straight across
  • Have toenails that naturally curve inward more than the average person
  • Experience a traumatic toe injury (e.g., a stubbing) that affects your nail bed

An ingrown toenail can affect any toe, but they’re most common on your big toe. 

Addressing your ingrown at home

At first, the ingrown toenail likely won’t bother you much. It may look a little swollen and cause a twinge of discomfort when you inadvertently bump it, but it isn’t overly painful and doesn’t affect your walk. 

If you have diabetes, peripheral artery disease (PAD), or any other chronic health condition that causes poor circulation and reduced sensation in your feet, noticing an ingrown is enough to warrant an appointment. Call our office so Dr. Cairns can address the ingrown, no matter how mild. 

Otherwise, when you first notice an ingrown toenail, start at-home treatment. That means:

  • Soaking your foot in a warm Epsom salt bath twice a day 
  • Keeping your foot dry otherwise
  • Avoiding wearing shoes at home
  • Stopping cutting the toenail, which can worsen your problem
  • Wearing roomy shoes or sandals to minimize pressure on the nail
  • Using an antibiotic cream and bandage to reduce your infection risk

Monitor your toe for a few days as you take these steps. 

When to call our office

While ingrown toenails can heal on their own, they can also worsen with at-home care. In fact, ingrown toenails account for about 20% of all podiatry office visits nationwide. 

When is it time to call Dr. Cairns? If self-care remedies haven’t helped after a few days or if your ingrown toenail worsens, it’s time to schedule a visit with our team. 

You should also call us if you see the signs of an infection, which include:

  • Pus 
  • Toe pain or tenderness
  • Inflammation (i.e., swelling)
  • Darkening or reddening around the ingrown toenail
  • Warmth or heat coming from your toe

Left untreated, an infection in your nail bed can lead to an abscess in your toe that requires surgical intervention. It can also spread to the bone of the affected toe. Ultimately, this isn’t something you want to leave unaddressed. 

Fortunately, Dr. Cairns offers expert treatment for ingrown toenails, from taping and splinting to surgery. If yours isn’t getting better or looks like it could be infected, call our office or book your appointment online today. 

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