Fact or Fiction: Let’s Test YOUR Ingrown Toenail Knowledge

These days, practically every patient I meet has a Google-bestowed medical degree. And, I’ll admit, sometimes those late-night, fear-fueled symptom searches yield, accurate, insightful, medical information. But…sometimes, they just don’t. In which case, you end up either convinced you’re about to die, or attempting home treatments for a condition you don’t actually have.

So, as part of my mission as an internet-savvy podiatrist, I’m here to help debunk incorrect medical information, while also giving you some reliable, solid facts. Today’s topic? Ingrown toenails, that pesky ailment impacting digits all over the country, from infants and beyond. Let’s see if you can pass this quick, easy test and determine which ‘facts’ about ingrown toenails and which are just old wives (or husband’s) tales. 

 

Searching for your foot pain symptoms? That's almost always a bad idea!

What makes ingrown toenails develop?

Alright, here we go: I’m laying out some thoughts about what causes ingrown toenails. Your job is to guess whether or not they’re true (before scrolling down to check out the answers at the end of the post. Are you ready?

  • Notion 1: "If you don't cut your nails, you'll get ingrown toenails."
     
  • Notion 2: "If you don't cut your nails correctly, you'll get ingrown toenails."
     
  • Notion 3:  "Cutting a 'V' into the nail will prevent ingrown toenails."
     
  • Notion 4: "Picking your toenails can cause ingrown toenails."

So, do you have your guesses ready? Here come the real answers.

Notion 1: FALSE. The simple fact of being long usually doesn’t cause toenails to become ingrown. What’s true is that most ingrown nails occur when the nail plate is too wide for the nail bed. That means it is not the length of your toenails, but their width that I’m most concerned about.

Of course, there’s a caveat to this ‘false’ answer. Inflammation is caused by the pressure of tight shoes, and some people's toenails do grow with a downward curve. In those cases, growing nails long can cause them to be embedded into the end of the toe, a situation that will be made worse as soon as you slip into your footwear.

Notion 2: Sorry, folks, the answer is again FALSE. We try to blame nail cutting for causing ingrown toenails. Think of all those poor pedicure technicians who get thrown under the bus! It can be true, however, that cutting nails improperly can exacerbate ingrown nails. Conventional wisdom is to cut your nails straight across. When you slant the sides of your nails back, they can help an ingrown nail form. But, again, this cutting answer is not one size fits all. If your nail is especially curved, not rounding the corners of the nail can cause them to dig into your toe and cause pain.

Notion 3: I’ll channel Chandler Bing on this on: Could this idea be any more false?  I continue to be amazed that people still cling to this ridiculous theory, which suggests that the groove in the nail will let the center compress, relieving pressure on the toe. I guess the idea makes sense if you consider a pressure grate on a bridge or road: the grate protects the pavement from cracking when the temperature changes, causing expansion and contraction. But, unfortunately for we humans, the concept doesn't translate to our toenails.

Notion 4: Ding, ding, ding, this one is TRUE! When it comes time for toenail trimming, a clipper is the way to go. It may be easier just to tear at the nails—we've all done it at one time or another—but when you do so, the toenail will often go too low on the sides, potentially causing trauma that will result in an ingrown toenail. So, check your answers and make sure of just one fact: when it comes to toenail health, you’d better keep those clippers handy. And Do. Not. Pick.

Red, swollen toes like this one could mean you or your child has an ingrown toenail.

 

 

What should I do about my ingrown toenail? 

Whether you passed our little test or not, there’s one more thing I need you to know. If you or your child ends up with an ingrown toenail, treating the condition at home is not an option you should even consider. Bathroom surgery, as I like to call it, is: painful, un-hygienic, and an open invitation to skin and nail infections.

That’s the bad news, but here’s the bright side: if you come into my Houston podiatry practice with an ingrown toenail, I’ll gently numb the affected area and address the ingrown toenail. The procedure is quick, safe, and virtually pain-free (the worst part of the process is typically the sting of my numbing injection.)

So, if you’ve got an ingrown toenail, face the facts: podiatrists should treat this condition. Home remedies are not an option, no matter how many correct answers you racked up on our handy little quiz!

Dr. Andrew Schneider
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Dr. Andrew Schneider is a podiatrist and foot surgeon at Tanglewood Foot Specialists in Houston, TX.
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