Don’t Let Ingrown Toenails Ruin Sandal Time
Perhaps citizens down in Florida, Texas, and Arizona cities might take warm weather for granted, but in Southeastern Wisconsin we only get a couple months of warmth every year.
And for our summer months, it’s only natural you want to enjoy everything the season has to offer!
Of course, “everything the season has to offer” can mean anything from catching a ballgame at Miller Park to watching your kids swim at Buchner Pool or the Horeb Springs Aquatic Center here in town to having a picnic with loved ones at any of our city’s award-winning parks.
No matter which summertime activities are your favorites, one of the best parts of the season is being able to air out our feet – especially after keeping them encased in socks, shoes, and winter boots for so many months of the year!
Sure, it simply just feels good to let your feet breathe, but it’s also worth noting the fact that those other months contribute to increased frequency of fungal toenail infections and athlete’s foot (which is also caused by fungus).
The increased risk comes from the fact fungus thrives in warm, damp environments and—even when the air outside is cold-to-downright-frigid—this is the exact condition you find with feet that are covered.
Now, there are certainly ways to reduce fungal infection risk even in our colder months, but they cannot compare to avoiding the problem by sporting sandals and open-toed shoes during the summer.
Appropriately, you don’t want issues keeping you from wearing your favorite seasonal footwear – and this can be the situation when ingrown toenails are in the picture!
When it comes to ingrown toenails, the simple fact is that you can potentially develop them no matter who you are.
See, certain demographics have a greater predisposition for some foot issues. If someone is going to get a bunion, that person is most likely to be female. (And same with osteoarthritis and elderly people.)
That is not the case for this condition.
As long as you have toenails, there’s a chance one of them—usually the nails found on big and small toes—could become ingrown.
When this happens, it can be quite painful. And beyond any pain or discomfort, the soft tissue flanking the nail can become irritated, reddened, and inflamed as the skin is pressed (and eventually pierced).
Along with the other symptoms, an ingrown nail also increases your risk for various bacterial and fungal infections. In fact, a significant number of fungal toenail cases actually begin this way.
Essentially, microorganisms have an easy path into the body when skin is pierced. And if they do find their way inside, the infection can potentially lead to the development of pockets of pus – which causes even more pressure and pain for the infected toe.
Fortunately, severe infections tend to be rare.
The reason for that is because most people will feel the pain and then take appropriate measures, including applying antibacterial cream or ointment.
Not everyone has the ability to feel physical sensations in their feet, however. Such is the case with diabetic neuropathy.
Diabetes is a very serious medical condition, one which causes systemic damage in the body. This can impair normal function for several of the body systems, including the nervous system.
If elevated blood sugar levels have started to damage your nerves, you will likely start with neuropathic pain (which includes sharp, burning, and tingling sensations). When enough time has lapsed—with continued heightened glucose levels and no measures to properly address the disease—those sensations cease and areas become numb.
It might sound better not to have pain, but this isn’t the case at all!
A diabetic individual cannot rely on the sense of touch to know when problems exist, which means he or she is probably not going to take measures to resolve the problem.
Left untreated, wounds—including ingrown toenails—can break down and become dangerous diabetic foot ulcers. This is particularly concerning because these ulcers have a 5-year mortality rate that is worse than the ones you can find for several prominent types of cancer, including colon, breast, and prostate cancers.
(And that illustrates a major reason why responsible diabetic foot care—such as having our office perform nail trimming services for you—is so important!)
Even if you don’t have diabetes, you still will want to have the problem resolved if you have a toenail that has become ingrown.
For cases that are mild-to-moderate and aren’t recurring, we will probably be able to handle this for you in a very conservative manner. In that best-case scenario, we may simply need to take measures to soften the nail, gently lift it over the skin, and then provide instructions for how to prevent it from becoming ingrown again. Further, these initial steps are typically followed by applying topical ointment or cream (to reduce infection risk).
Regarding pain management, you may find benefit by taking recommended or prescribed pain relievers, and potentially with over-the-counter options you can pick up at the store.
That’s the basics of conservative treatment, but—as with just about anything in life—“best case” scenarios obviously don’t always happen. (After all, there would be no need for the “best case” label if they did!)
In some cases, more aggressive treatment is needed.
Usually, we reserve surgery (nail removal – either partial or complete) for ingrown toenails that are either causing severe pain and/or recurrent.
Between the two situations—which are not mutually-exclusive—it is more likely we need to recommend surgical intervention to address a recurrent ingrown nail. This is simply because the core issue typically is an unusually-curved nail structure that will cause it to continually become ingrown.
We understand that it might seem as though removing a toenail, or part of one, would be painful, but this is not the case. Prior to the procedure, we use anesthesia to numb the area (provided there are no issues preventing us from doing so).
In the case of complete nail removal, we may perform another procedure to keep the toenail from growing back. The reason for this is because we’ve determined the same problem will keep arising over and over again, and we don’t want you to keep dealing with pain and discomfort continually.
The second procedure is one which renders the nail matrix—which generates your new nail tissue—inoperable on a permanent basis.
Naturally, the affected nail will be covered with antibacterial ointment and gauze following the surgery.
For optimal healing and reduced infection risk, it is imperative you follow all postop instructions, including measures for keeping the area clean.
Patients typically want to know what they can expect from the procedure and we normally start by noting that it is done on an outpatient basis – which means you will leave the same day. Since anesthesia is used, plan on having someone drive you to and from the appointment. And during the recovery period, you will probably have a bit of discomfort for the first couple of days, but this will start to fade in time.
Unless you have an inherited nail structure making you susceptible to this condition, there are some measures you can take to reduce your risk. These include things like:
- Keep your toenails at a proper length. Ideally, you should keep your nails roughly even with the edge of their respective toes. If you trim them too short, it can potentially result in pressure from footwear – and this can direct a nail to start growing into surrounding tissue.
- Clip the nails straight across.Whereas people usually round fingernails when trimming them, toenails should be clipped with a straight cut. Doing so reduces the risk they will dig into the sides as they grow.
- Choose properly-fitting shoes.Though not as common a root cause as people may think, tight-fitting shoes can possibly lead to the condition. This is particularly true when toes are pinched by footwear that does not have enough room in the toe box. To avoid this—and other foot issues—always opt for comfortable shoes that fit well.
- Protect your feet at work (and at home).Some cases of ingrown toenails develop on account of physical trauma, often by dropping something heavy on the toes. If your job requires you to move heavy items, make sure you wear steel-toed shoes or boots. And if you are moving something heavy at home, ask a family member, friend, or neighbor to help. (Not only does that lower your risk of dropping the object on your foot, it can also potentially save your back!)
Hopefully you are able to prevent a case of ingrown toenails from happening in the first place, but if you do find yourself with this common condition and want to enjoy the couple months of summer we actually get, contact our team at Waukesha Foot Specialists and request an appointment for professional treatment!
You can connect with us by calling (262) 544-0700 and one of our team members will be happy to answer any questions or assist you in scheduling an appointment