While it's normal to get the occasional ingrown toenail, some people may get them repeatedly. If you keep experiencing red, swollen toes, you need to understand why you're at risk and how to resolve the issue.
Who's at Risk for Ingrown Toenails?
Ingrown toenails can actually be a hereditary issue. If your parents or other family members have this problem, it's likely you will too.
Everyone's toes are shaped differently. Some people's nails are more even and square shaped. However, some individuals' toes are less square-shaped and more rectangular. If the nail is rectangular, it's wider than normal, meaning that the skin on the foot is overstretched and can fold over the tip of the nail.
However, ingrown toenails are not just an issue of hereditary or shape. Lifestyle choices can affect this condition. For example, people who are very active are more likely to have ingrown toenails. Since athletes sweat while working out, their feet tend to get moist. This moisture, coupled with sock/shoe compression, can soften the skin and toenails, making it easier for ingrown toenails to occur. Athletes usually receive more trauma to their feet (e.g., kicking a soccer ball), so that repeated pressure can add to the problem.
Some people are tempted to cut their toenails the way they would their fingernails, by rounding the edges. People who cut their toenails incorrectly set themselves up for ingrown toenails. People may think that getting a pedicure would solve the problem, but some pedicurists may inadvertently cut the nail too short, which again, could cause the toenail to grow into the skin.
Lastly, people with preexisting health conditions are also prone to ingrown toenails. For instance, if you are a diabetic, your poor circulation may impair your ability to feel foot injuries. You may not notice an ingrown toenail until it becomes infected.
How Can You Prevent Ingrown Nails?
The good news is that preventative methods are both easy and effective. Instead of cutting a toenail too short, let it grow out. If your toenails are too sharp, file the edges instead of clipping them back. Even though nails are slightly rounded, do your best to cut the nail straight across.
If you lead an active life, then you should be changing your shoes and socks regularly. As long as your foot has time to dry after a sweaty workout, ingrown toenails shouldn't be a problem.
If your shoes are too tight during activity, then your toes and toenails will be cramped. Instead of just looking at regular shoe sizes that are based on average length and width, look at custom-width shoes. Narrow shoe sizes are B, C, and D. You may need a wide (E), an extra wide (EE), or a triple wide (EEE) fit to feel most comfortable.
How Can You Ease Symptoms of Ingrown Nails?
If you already have an ingrown toenail, one of the best ways to ease your symptoms is with a foot bath. Some people use a mixture of water and apple cider vinegar. The acidic nature of the vinegar can prevent infection, kill bacteria, and reduce swelling. A mixture of water and hydrogen peroxide is also beneficial in preventing infection. If you are in pain because of swelling, an Epsom salt foot bath can reduce discomfort. Once you soak your feet, it's important to dry them completely afterward.
Ultimately, the goal of the foot bath is to soften your skin and nails enough that you can get a small cotton wedge under the corner of your nail. Use tweezers to lift the corner of your nail and slip the cotton under. This will encourage the nail to grow correctly and not into the skin. A cotton wedge can be a little uncomfortable at first, but it should not cause pain. If it is too painful, you may need to do a few foot baths before applying a cotton wedge.
If these preventative measures aren't helping, or you already have an infection, you need to contact a podiatrist. They will be able to numb the area and remove the infected nail. For additional tips, contact a podiatry service like Baton Rouge Foot Care.