Why do toenails curl under and what can you do about them? Before getting to that answer, understanding why this happens can help you pick appropriate solutions.
What Is An Ingrown Toenail?
When a toenail curls under, it becomes an ingrown toenail. The condition is called onychocryptosis and it can be quite painful if it is not treated on time.
That’s because the sharp edges of the nail burrow into the skin on the side of the toe.
Our nails are made from a protein called keratin, which is present on the top layer of our skin.
Our nails grow when cells from the matrix of the finger start to grow in numbers and get pushed out. But, what about the old cells?
In some people, these form a hard plate. However, at this point, the nail should be allowed to grow while remaining within the toe or fingertip.
The lunula, i.e., the half-moon shape, which you can see on the nail, has ridges that go right up the tip.
There are similar ones under the nail plate and both sets of ridges should fit together to allow the nail to slide and grow.
However, if this balance is not maintained, the nail can either grow too fast or too slowly, thus forcing a shape change or a curved nail.
With time, this can cut into the skin containing it.
If the condition is not treated in a timely manner, the ingrown toenail can result in an infection that may require surgery to cure.
While any nail can become like this, the big toe is more prone to it because of the large size of its nail.
The condition is common in teenagers but it is highly common in adults, especially those who have underlying medical conditions.
Common Causes Of Curved Toenails
So, why do toenails curl under? The main reasons include the following:
Trauma And Damage
You can get an ingrown toenail if your toe collides with a blunt object. The impact can change the way it grows, which usually means it starts to grow inward.
This is understandable since the nail absorbs almost all of the shock from the impact.
This is why athletes are more prone to this condition, especially those who place most of the pressure at the end of their feet. Some of them include soccer players or ballet dancers.
Wearing Tight Shoes
If you wear heels a lot or tight-fitting shoes for prolonged periods of time, your nails will grow inward.
That’s because your toes will try to compensate for the lack of space by scrunching close together due to the constant pressure.
Your big toe will be the first to exhibit this condition and the rest will follow if you don’t change your footwear.
Be especially careful when you are buying shoes for your children.
Rather than going on guesses or predetermined sizes, take your children with you to the shoe store so that they can be measured for appropriate sizes.
Plus, make them try out and walk around in each pair before making a decision and when they outgrow those, head back to get bigger ones.
When you are choosing shoes for yourself, focus on the entire length, not the just the front where your toes will be.
Shoes that are narrow at the heel can also result in ingrown toenails with time. This is important if you have small toes.
If that is the case, chances are that your toe is not big enough to accommodate the nail, which can make it curve.
Cutting Nails Wrong
One of the most common causes of ingrown toenails is haphazard trims.
Most people cut theirs by making sure that the clippers follow the natural curve of the toe.
While this is fine for a couple of trims, with time, this technique can backfire when the nail’s edge curves and starts to dig into the skin.
To avoid this scenario, cut in a straight line and do not cut your nails to the quick either.
This will prevent them from growing inwards rather and they will grow straight.
Treating Ingrown Toenails
The good news is that you can treat ingrown toenails at home if you take action fast.
Soak your feet in some warm water for about half an hour and then push the skin away from the edge of the nail using an olive oil-soaked cotton ball.
If your ingrown toenail is painful, apply a topical antibiotic or a cream recommended by your doctor to prevent an infection from setting in.
Try this treatment for a few weeks to see if the condition improves.
If it doesn’t and the pain gets worse to the point that you cannot walk properly, visit a doctor immediately.
An infection may be setting in and your toenail may need to be cleaned professionally.
There are several surgical treatments that can take care of this condition.
The nail can be removed partially, particularly the part which is digging into the skin.
It will be numbed before the nail is narrowed i.e. the side of the nail is trimmed.
This keeps the edges straight and cotton is placed under the rest of the nail to prevent the nail from curving again.
It may also be treated with phenol to ensure this. If done well, you shouldn’t get another ingrown toenail after you recover.
However, if your nail has thickened too much, it may have to be removed completely via a procedure called matrixectomy.
If that is the case, do not delay treatment. If left untreated, an ingrown toenail can lead to a serious infection, which can penetrate the bone and muscle with time.
The results include open sores, foot ulcers and tissue death.
If you have diabetes, you are more at risk since your immune system is compromised. Even a tiny cut can become infected fast.
So don’t delay and get treatment as fast as possible.
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