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Ingrown nails: Everything you need to know from causes, preventions, treatments, and more

Ingrown nails: Everything you need to know from causes, preventions, treatments, and more

Go toe to toe

Text: Cheryl Lai-Lim


Image: Instagram | @charleskeithofficial

A nail injury might sound frivolously insignificant, but truly, there is no quite comparable torture when it comes to dealing with ingrown toenails. They're notoriously painful, look unsightly, and acts as fodder for you to book a pedicure appointment every day for the rest of your life (or perhaps until the ingrown toenail somehow miraculously cures itself). But before you submit yourself to a fate of perpetual hobbling, preventing and treating an ingrown toenail is simpler than you expect. Here's how to put your best foot forward.

How do ingrown toenails occur?

First things first, the root of the problem. Ingrown toenails, or onychocryptosis (the official medical term for all you Grey's Anatomy fans), occur when the edges or corners of your nails curls down and dig into the skin next to the nail. Yes, it's as painful as it sounds. Common causes of ingrown toenails include nail trauma, hereditary or genetic predisposition, tight footwear, or when one cuts their toenail incorrectly. Clipping your toenails too short, especially around the corners, practically sets the scene for an ingrown toenail to make an appearance.

Symptoms of ingrown toenails

The first warning sign of an ingrown toenail is when the skin next to your nail is tender, swollen or hard. You might notice fluid build-up around the toe, or even experience flares of pain when you place pressure on the toe. Alarm bells should start screeching when the area gets increasingly red and painful, you notice an overgrowth of skin around the toe, or if the area starts bleeding and oozing pus.

Treating an ingrown toenail

Home treatments

For minor cases when the ingrown toenail isn't particularly painful or infected, you can attempt a DIY treatment with home remedies. The most common home solution is to soak your feet in lukewarm water two to three times a day for 15 to 20 minutes. After each soak, make sure to dry your foot thoroughly. For the less queasy, gently place small amounts of fresh cotton or waxed dental floss under the ingrown edge and between the corner of nail and skin. Do this for a few days in a row to help your nail grow over the skin edge.

Over-the-counter medications

You can also opt for OTC creams and products to help encourage healing and reduce risks of infection. Such creams include Neosporin, Polysporin, or Dr. Scholl's Ingrown Toenail Pain Reliever. Follow the instructions labelled on the packaging, and remember to bandage the toe after each application to prevent the cream from rubbing off.

When (and where) to seek a professional

If your ingrown toenail is an angry pulsing red that shoots little lightning bolts of pain every time you take a step, it's time to seek out the professionals. It's best not to take care of an infected ingrown toenail yourself, for you may end up causing more harm than intended. A podiatrist will be able to take care of infections and address the ingrown toenail for you. If you're in the central area, call ahead to clinics like Physio & Sole Clinic and My FootDr Singapore for an appointment. Other podiatry clinics with locations around the island include East Coast Podiatry (with more outlets than its name suggests), Orthofoot MD, and Family Podiatry Centre.

How to prevent ingrown toenails from happening

To save yourself the pain (literally and figuratively) of an ingrown toenail, prevention is better than cure, as they say. When clipping your toenails, make sure that they're trimmed straight across the top, rather than curved at an angle. It's important to note that any of your nails can get infected, though the most occurrence is on your big toe. Wear shoes that provide enough room at the toes and ensure that they fit properly and aren't too tight. No matter how pretty that shiny new pair of shoes might look, if it's too tight, the pain of an ingrown toenail just isn't worth it. If you find yourself getting ingrown toenails frequently despite trying every trick in the book, it's best to head to a podiatrist for there could be underlying causes.