When we start taking our health for granted, our body lets us know.
For example, toenails growing at an angle can point to an underlying health condition or just our body’s way of communicating the aging process.
Unfortunately, most of us ignore that symptom until the flesh around the nail starts to swell and throb with pain as the nail grows inward.
In this condition, the side of your toenail starts to grow into the surrounding skin and this condition is quite common in children and pregnant women.
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What Causes Nails To Grow At An Angle?
Since the nail on our big toe is the biggest one we have, chances of it growing at an angle are high compared to the other toes.
To understand why this happens, we have to understand how the nail grows.
Our nails are made of a protein called keratin. They grow and then the matrix, a part of the protein, starts to multiply and is pushed outward.
The old cells bunch together to form the translucent nail plate.
To ensure it grows straight, the ridges under the nail bed and the nail plate have to align perfectly. Those ridges act as ‘rails’ on which the nail should slide and grow.
If the nail grows too fast or too slowly though, that balance is disrupted and the resulting stresses can force it to change direction as it grows.
The usual result is that it ends up growing into the surrounding skin, which can lead to cuts that can get infected as they get larger.
The reason why the nails on the thumbs don’t grow inward compared to toenails is based on its initial curvature.
The latter is flatter at the end than the former so it feels more stress as it grows and adheres to the skin at the tip.
When these go out of balance, the flat nail is more likely to veer off the ridge rails and start growing at an angle.
What Causes Ingrown Toenails?
Curved or toenails growing at an angle are common in people who have experienced the following:
One of the most common causes of an ingrown toenail is trauma via impact.
For example, if you stubbed your toe against a blunt object, the nail’s position may be compromised.
This shift can make it grow at odd angles and it will eventually start to dig into the surrounding skin.
Since the big toe is the first thing that makes impact when your foot strikes an object, chances of it getting an ingrown toenail are higher compared to the other toes.
Athletes are more prone to this condition since the ends of their feet absorb shock repeatedly, such as from kicking a football around to balancing on their toes during a dance recital.
Wearing Tight Shoes
If you wear heels or ill-fitting shoes regularly, the nails on your feet will suffer.
That’s because your toes will be scrunched up for long periods of time, which will cause the nails to turn inwards because of the pressure.
Since the nail on the big toe is the largest, it will start to deform first.
To prevent this from happening, switch your shoes with ones that you can walk in without wincing in pain at every step.
This is especially important for kids since they can outgrow their shoes faster than adults.
If you are searching for shoes for adults, make sure you have the right size and the entire shoe has enough space to accommodate the feet, not just the back.
If you don’t clean your feet regularly or wear sweaty shoes for hours without giving your toes a reprieve, you can get ram’s horn nails or onychogryphosis.
The condition causes one side of the nail to grow faster than the other, causing the nail to curve or becoming thick.
This happens when fungus gets inside the nail, making it discoloured and misshapen.
Exposing your nails to a moist environment for prolonged periods of time without drying and cleaning them can lead to this condition.
If left untreated, ram’s horn nails can lead to infection and the resulting pain can prevent you from leading a normal life.
Even if you have the cleanest feet in your family, you may still be prone to ingrown toenails because of your genes.
You can prevent them by taking care of your nails and by getting regular pedicures.
If not, you will be plagued with chronic foot pain and infections your whole life. For severe cases, you may even have to undergo surgery.
Diagnosis And Treatment
Your doctor will diagnose the condition via a thorough examination of your feet, the surrounding skin as well as the symptoms you experience.
If you have an ingrown nail, he/she may suggest the following treatments:
A Nail Lift
This treatment will be recommended if your nail is only slightly lifted, is red but has no pus. During it the doctor will gently lift the nail and place dental floss or cotton under it to act as a splint. This will prevent the nail from growing into the surrounding skin and it will grow above its edge. To ensure this works, you will have to soak your toe and change the splint daily.
Partial Nail Removal
If your toenail is infected i.e. it is red, painful and producing pus, the doctor may recommend that it be partially removed. Don’t worry, the nail will be numbed beforehand with a local anesthetic.
Nail And Tissue Removal
If your toe experiences the same issue regularly, the doctor may recommend that you have the nail partially removed along with the tissue underneath it i.e. the nail bed. That part of the nail may not grow back again thus preventing the painful condition from manifesting. The doctor may use a laser to complete the treatment.
Toenails growing at an angle can lead to painful infections or worse if you neglect foot hygiene and your general health as well.
Keep them trimmed and neat and you should be able to keep the condition at bay.
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