Ingrown toenails are a common foot impairment wherein the corners of the nails dig painfully next to its flesh. It happens mostly on the big toe, but can also happen on neighbouring toes. Nails usually grow straight out, but sometimes the corners curve inward due to a number of factors. If left untreated, ingrown toenails can cause irritation, redness, and swelling.
Podiatrists are medical specialists that treat a wide variety of foot problems. If at-home remedies aren’t sufficient to alleviate the condition, then you will need to undergo ingrown toenail surgery. Here is everything you need to know about how podiatrists such as ACT Podiatry treat ingrown toenails.
How is ingrown toenail surgery done
Your podiatrist may recommend ingrown toenail surgery for a number of reasons:
- Your ingrown toenails keep recurring
- The nails have curved excessively
- You have diabetes (which can make complications more likely)
- The condition cannot be treated at home
Prior to the surgery, your podiatrist will clean and sanitise the affected area. Then, an anaesthetic will be injected to numb the toe. An elastic band will be wrapped around your foot and leave your toe fingers exposed. After that, a wedge is placed underneath your nail to prop up the ingrown toenail.
Once the anaesthetic has taken effect, the podiatrist will use a scalpel to make a precision cut from the ingrown side down to the cuticle. The cut section is then removed and frees your toe from pain and swelling. Depending on the severity of the ingrown toenail, the part of the nail or the entirety of it may be removed.
The podiatrist will proceed to use a cautery (which is an electrical heated device) to interrupt the nail matrix from which your nail grows. They may also use phenol or trichloroacetic acid to achieve the same effect. This helps stop bleeding and prevents the section of your ingrown toenail from regrowing (or stop it from curving inward if it does regrow).
Lastly, the podiatrist will apply petroleum jelly to your toe and apply a bandage to cover it up. The surgery takes only 30 minutes and you’ll be well on your way home after the procedure.
Does ingrown toenail surgery hurt?
While ingrown toenails can be quite painful, the surgery itself is relatively pain free. You may feel a slight discomfort when the podiatrist injects the anaesthetic, but you should feel comfortable during the rest of the procedure. The podiatrist will then provide you with a prescription for pain medication to relieve the pain once the anaesthetic wears off. If over-the-counter pain relievers don’t work, make sure to contact your podiatrist immediately.
Ingrown toenail surgery aftercare
After 24 hours, you can clean your toe by soaking it in warm water/salt solution. This helps facilitate the healing process by killing bacteria and minimising the risk of infection. For the first few days after surgery, you should keep physical activity such as jumping, running, and walking to an absolute minimum, Rest your foot as much as you can and keep it at an elevated position while you’re sitting to relieve pressure from your toe.
The podiatrist will give you a detailed instruction on proper wound care so make sure to follow these instructions closely. You should consider changing the wound dressing at least twice a day to prevent infections. Keep the wound covered and use a non-stick dressing until the wound fully heals.
If the wound does get infected, contact your podiatrist so they can prescribe you with oral antibiotics. Avoid wearing tight-fitting shoes during the recovery stage and stick to wearing sandals or open-toed footwear. You’ll be able to return with your daily activities after a few days, but make sure to limit strenuous activities for at least two weeks.
Prognosis on ingrown toenail surgery
Ingrown toenail surgery is a safe and effective procedure that helps treat mild to severe ingrown toenails. If your toenail is partially removed, it will take three to four months for the nail to grow back. If your whole nail is removed, expect the nail to regrow in a year. The nail that regrows will be much thinner than before, thus eliminating the chances of developing curved toenails. There is a chance that the toenail won’t grow back, but do not worry since your toenail bed will heal just fine.
As with most surgeries, there is a potential for implications. One of these is having an infection. If you observe proper wound care instructions, then the risk for infection is quite low. Another complication is having a damaged nail bed (which could cause drainage and healing). This is why it’s important to consult a licensed and experienced podiatrist to prevent such implications from happening.
In some cases, the nails can become ingrown again. This can be caused by wearing ill-fitting footwear that puts pressure on your nails and cause it to grow inward.
Alternative treatments for ingrown toenails
Surgery isn’t always necessary for treating ingrown toenails. If the condition is relatively minor, you can get away with a variety of home remedies. Try out these at-home treatments if you have ingrown toenails:
- Soak the affected foot in warm water/salt solution everyday for at least 15-20 minutes. This helps soften the ingrown toenail and reduce the pain/swelling associated with it.
- Place a small piece of cotton or dental floss under the ingrown toenail. This can help with straightening the nail as it grows.
- Once the ingrown toenails has softened, carefully clip off the edge with nail clippers. Don’t try to go too deep as you can risk clipping the flesh next to it.
- Apply an over-the-counter ointment like petroleum jelly on top of the nail and cover it up with a bandage.
- Refrain from wearing tight-fitting shoes as the nail regrows. If you experience any pain, you can take over-the-counter pain relievers.
Ingrown toenails require your immediate attention. Take action right away to prevent the nails from digging in deeper and causing you more problems. Try out these at-home remedies and if they don’t work, consult an expert podiatrist so you can undergo ingrown toenail surgery.