Ingrown toenails are a common yet annoying condition. While they may seem like minor inconveniences initially, ignoring them can lead to severe complications and impact your overall foot health.
Read on to learn more about ingrown toenails and the potential consequences of neglecting timely treatment.
Causes of Ingrown Toenails
An ingrown toenail, or onychocryptosis, occurs when the edge of a toenail grows into the surrounding skin. According to studies, the condition is responsible for nearly 20% of all foot problems. It causes irritation and can often lead to pain, swelling, and redness around the affected area.
The most common causes of ingrown toenails include:
- Shoes That Don’t Fit Properly: Wearing tight shoes can increase pressure on the toenail, leading to its growth into the surrounding skin. This pressure can cause discomfort and the development of an ingrown toenail.
- Improper Nail Trimming: Incorrect toenail trimming significantly contributes to ingrown toenails. Trimming the nails too short or rounding the edges instead of cutting them straight across can cause the nail to grow into the skin, leading to an ingrown toenail.
- Trauma or Injury: Stubbing the toe or experiencing a toe injury can damage the toenail, causing it to grow irregularly and potentially become ingrown.
- Large Toenails and Deformities: Some individuals may have nails that are naturally larger than toes, making them more susceptible to becoming ingrown. Deformities that alter your toe’s shape and structure will also increase the likelihood of the condition.
- Obesity: Excess weight can increase pressure on the feet, potentially leading to ingrown toenails.
- Wet or Sweaty Feet: Prolonged moisture on the feet from excessive sweating or wet conditions can soften the skin around the nails. This makes it easier for nails to penetrate the skin and become ingrown.
- Certain Drugs: Some cancer drugs may interfere with nail development, increasing the risk of ingrown nails.
In addition to the causes mentioned above, certain factors can increase the risk of developing ingrown toenails. These risk elements include:
- Genetics: It’s uncommon, but some people may have a genetic predisposition to develop the condition.
- Cardiovascular Issues: Many conditions, including heart failure and kidney issues, can lead to water retention in the feet. This can increase the risk of ingrown toenails.
- Repetitive Sports Activities: Participating in repetitive kicking or running sports can put additional stress on the toenails. This stress can make them more susceptible to becoming ingrown.
- Older Age: Older individuals may face challenges in foot care or may have difficulty noticing changes in their feet. Improper care is a major contributor to foot infections.
- Certain Health Conditions: Conditions that reduce blood flow to the feet can affect nail growth. This could increase the chances of ingrown toenails.
Complications of Ignoring Treatment
The discomfort might be bearable, leading individuals to overlook the issue. However, the complications that can arise from untreated ingrown toenails are far from minor and include the following:
One of the first complications or warning signs of untreated ingrown toenails is infection. When the nail pierces the skin, it creates an entry point for bacteria. Bacteria entering the skin can cause redness, swelling, warmth, and pain. An aggravated infection can make even the simplest tasks, like walking or wearing shoes, excruciatingly painful.
A bacterial infection could result in sepsis. This condition affects the blood and body tissues, causing a potentially life-threatening reaction.
An untreated infection has a higher chance of leading to inflammation and abscess formation. It is essentially a pocket of pus that develops as the body attempts to fight off the infection. The swollen area can become tender and painful. This means you cannot do tasks that apply pressure to that area. Abscesses are uncomfortable and indicate a more advanced stage of infection. They require medical intervention to drain the pus and prevent the disease from spreading further.
Severe or recurrent ingrown toenails could result in foot ulcers. These open sores will heal slowly and can lead to serious infections. People with conditions like diabetes are more susceptible to foot ulcers. This is because diabetes causes nerve damage, which can reduce the feeling in your feet and impair your body’s natural ability to heal itself.
In some cases, the infection from ingrown toenails can result in osteomyelitis. This severe and difficult-to-treat bone infection causes persistent pain and pus drainage. This complication demands immediate medical attention because it can lead to gangrene. The treatment usually involves powerful antibiotics. More complicated cases could require surgery to remove the infected/dead tissue.
A severe infection can lead to systemic infections. Bacteria from the infected toe can enter the bloodstream, spreading the disease to other body parts. This can lead to fever, chills, a rapid heartbeat, and low blood pressure. Systemic infections are life-threatening and require immediate emergency medical care.
Don’t delay seeing a healthcare professional if you suspect an ingrown toenail. Mobility Bone & Joint Institute can provide comprehensive, multidisciplinary care for all orthopedic conditions. Our team offers expert guidance on managing and treating ingrown toenails. Call (978) 794-1946 to book an appointment!