A "common" ingrown nail occurs when the corner or side of a nail grows into the skin, almost as though the nail were too large for the space in which it has to grow. There are two other types of ingrown nails which are characterized by the way the nail deviates from its normal "trajectory". The first type, known as an incurvated nail, occurs when the nail folds slightly on itself, exerting pressure on the extremity of the toe in the process. The second type of ingrown nail is known as a pincer nail whereby both sides of the nail are very curved, causing the sides of the nail to curve towards each other and giving the nail the appearance of a pincer. Ingrown nails most often occur on the big toe.
Ingrown nails often develop for no real reason. However, wearing shoes that are too narrow or cutting one's nails too short or not straight across can cause ingrown nails. Those whose parents have had ingrown nails are also more at risk.
An ingrown nail can cause swelling and redness around the nail where it breaks through and penetrates into the skin. Sufferers may also experience pain of varying intensity which can make wearing shoes painful and, in some cases, even impossible. One should also be careful as infection may also set in.
Treating oneself is possible. The first step involves trying to realign the nail into a normal position. To do this, soak the foot in warm salt water or warm soapy water for a good ten minutes and place fresh bits of cotton between the nail and the skin to alleviate pressure. You can also take over-the-counter anti-inflammatories (ex. Advil™) to help relieve any pain. If this first attempt is unsuccessful, we recommend that you consult a physician. Do not, under any circumstance, cut the nail yourself! This could lead to infection and the risk of recurrence then becomes very high.
A physician or dermatologist can prescribe emollient or anti-inflammatory creams to redirect the nail and relieve pain. Oral medication is another option. The physician can also use mechanical means to force the nail to take a normal shape. For example, in the case of a pincer nail, placing a wire at the base of the nail will help it maintain a normal curve while it grows. Although this method takes some time, it has proven to be very effective.
And finally, in serious cases where the nail is deeply imbedded in the skin, surgery may be required. This solution is recommended when the nail becomes too large for the toe. The physician will cut the superfluous part of the nail and remove it right down to its root so that it can no longer grow where it should not.