Common ailments

Ingrown toenail

Q: I’m an active 17 year old girl and over the past few weeks I’ve noticed the skin surrounding the toenail of the big toe on my left foot has become swollen, red and painful. It is particularly painful when any pressure is applied to my toe, so I’m finding it uncomfortable to wear anything other than sandals. What could be the problem?

A: It sounds like you may have an ingrown toenail. This is when the sides of the toenail grow into the surrounding skin, piercing the skin and causing it to become swollen and tender.

The condition is treatable and there are some things you can do to prevent your toe from getting worse and to avoid a recurrence in the future.

Start by soaking your foot in warm water a couple of times a day. This should help clear the infection by loosening the skin and forcing the infection to grow out. It might also help to use a cotton bud soaked in olive oil to gently push the skin away from the side of your toenail whilst further softening the skin. Many people also have success with home remedies such as applying tea tree oil or a vapour rub to the infected area. The ingredients found in these ointments have antifungal properties which will help the nail to push the infection out. If your toe is painful, taking an anti-inflammatory painkiller such as Ibuprofen will ease the pain and help to reduce the inflammation.

To prevent ingrown toenails in future, wash your feet and dry them thoroughly every day. Trim toenails straight across as this will stop any sharp bits of nail digging into the surrounding skin and making it sore. 

You should also check your footwear as poorly fitted shoes can create a warm bed in your toenail which encourages the infection to grow and worsen. Sports shoes are particularly important as the moisture from sweaty feet can encourage infections to develop. Also, if any of your shoes are tight fitting, this can squash the toes together, forcing the nail to grow inwards into your skin.

If the condition of your toe does not improve after a few days of taking the above measures then I would advise that you visit your GP. Depending on the severity of your condition, your GP may recommend that you have part of your toenail surgically removed. This is a common procedure for treating ingrown toenails and is usually very effective. Hopefully, the self-care measures outlined above will however be enough to prevent your toenail from getting worse and allow it to eventually heal itself.


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