An ingrown toenail, medically referred to as onychocryptosis, is a painful condition in which the nail grows in a way that cuts into one or both sides of the nail bed.
Ingrown toenails can be very excruciating. The pain is caused by inflammation of the paronychium (the nail bed surrounding the toe), followed by the toenail growing into the resulting nodule. The pain gets worse with any pressure, including from shoes pressing the affected area. Accidentally hitting or bumping the ingrown nail can cause sharp pain because it can cause the nail to further cut into the skin tissue.
Ingrown toenails can easily become infected. Signs of an infection stemming from an ingrown toenail include redness and swelling, as well as pus and/or a watery discharge leaking from nail area. If these symptoms are present, it is important to contact your doctor, as ingrown toenail infections can lead to abscess and even amputation.
The leading cause of ingrown toenails is wearing poorly fitting or too-tight shoes, especially high heels, which squeeze the toes together in uncomfortable positions. But other factors can cause ingrown nails, including damaged or improperly cut toenails, fungal or bacterial infections, vascular problems, diabetes, abnormally shaped nail beds, excessive sweating and genetic susceptibility or other foot ailments.
If your ingrown toenail shows signs of infection — including swelling, redness or discharge — it is better to see your doctor rather than to try treating the ingrown nail yourself. In rare cases, surgical removal of the toenail is required. Most ingrown toenails, however, can be fixed at home. Some natural remedies include making a homemade “lift” to pull the toenail up and out of the irritated skin tissue, soaking the toe in water to soften the skin and draw the toenail out, and using topical medications to help reduce the swelling and kill any bacteria that could cause infections. It is strongly recommended that you do not try cutting ingrown toenails, as improperly cutting the nail could lead to further problems and infection.
There are several things you can do to prevent ingrown toenails from forming, including wearing properly fitted shoes with large toe boxes, avoiding high heels and other uncomfortable footwear, keeping your feet clean and moisturized, properly cutting your toenails in a straight line rather in a curved shape, and walking barefoot when possible (at home, for instance).