Ingrown Nail

An ingrown nail is a widespread nail infection that usually affects the primary toenail more that the other nails. The medical term for the nail infection is onychocryptosis or unguis incarnates. The illness may be triggered by several factors; but the infected ingrown nail begins as a microbial inflammation in the soft tissues surrounding the corners of the toe nails. This prevents anything from going under the nail and causing infection. The infection also makes the flesh to penetrate into the sliver of the nail. The corners of the toenail become inverted, grow inward into the skin and painfully cut into the sides of the nail bed.  As the infection progresses, the infected ingrown nail begins to grow extra tissue and develop a skin abscess. The area becomes swollen and painful to touch and the surface of the skin appears red or pink and is often accompanied by discharge of pus or yellowish fluid from the sides of the ingrown nail. Bad nail care, injury to the nail bed and wearing ill fitting footwear are the common triggers for this condition. This can also be genetic, where abnormal predisposition or nail deformities can run in the family. In rare and extreme conditions, the disease may infect the bone in the infected toe and the condition is medically known as osteomyelitis.

Symptoms of Ingrown Nail

  • Typical ingrown nail symptoms include curling up of the affected nail from the sides and digging into the skin, causing pain, redness and infection.
  • The most important symptom of the infection is the swelling in the sides of the nail.
  • The affected nail will become sore and painful to touch, especially along the margin of the nail.
  • The folds of the nail will become reddish and form pus or a yellow discharge; sometimes the discharge from the infected areas can be watery with traces of blood.
  • The nail will become sensitive to the slightest of pressures, producing very sharp and excruciating pain, since the pressure will puncture the tissues in the toes.
  • The ingrown nail will become susceptible to infections unless it is kept clean to avoid aggravating the condition.

Causes for Ingrown Nail

The main causes of an ingrown nail include:

  • Improper trimming, which could include cutting nails too close to the skin. Rounding the corners of the nail, instead of cutting them straight across, exposes the nail bed and makes the nails susceptible to infection and other nail diseases.
  • Wearing ill-fitted footwear and high heels over a long period of time can compress and bunch the toes together. This puts irregular pressure on the toenails and makes them grow in abnormal directions.  
  • Malnourishment and certain deficiency diseases can cause distorted or warped nails. For example, vitamin and iron deficiency anemia can cause abnormal shape of nails; liver diseases can cause damage to nails and even lead to infected inward growth of the nails.
  • Wounding the nail plate while engaged in sports (like soccer) can cause repeated damage to the nail bed and cause the nail to grow unevenly into the flesh.
  • Fungal infections in the nail can cause abnormal growth of the nail.
  • Injuring the nail plate during freak accidents, can stub a nail and the flesh underneath, causing subsequent inward and irregular nail growth.
  • Nail deformities can arise from hereditary or genetic factors.

Remedies for Ingrown Nail

An ingrown nail is a painful condition and is usually accompanied by infection, swelling, pus and other discharge. It is best to get the condition treated by a podiatrist who can prescribe antibiotics for the condition. There are certain alternate treatments at home that can provide some relief from pain, but before trying any alternative cures you should consult with an expert.

The home remedies listed could work for some people depending on the severity and nature of the infection. However, home remedies for ingrown nails are an option that should be taken up only after being advised by a physician to do so.

  • Ingrown nail home treatment includes clipping the nails regularly where they start growing into the skin. Since the nails are sensitive to pressure and the tissues underneath puncture easily, they should be softened before clipping to minimize pain and chances of infection. Oils, lip moisturizing creams, antiseptic creams and anti-fungal creams are all good choices to soften the nails before clipping them off.
  • Filing the nails instead of cutting them can also be a cure for some inward nail infections.
  • You should use clean band aids, Neosporin powder and (prescribed) antibiotic creams in the area regularly to heal and control the infection.
  • Dipping the nails in warm water with a capful of Epsom salt, vinegar or table salt for ten to fifteen minutes will relieve pain, cleanse and heal the infection. You can apply some tea tree oil after the hydro treatment for quick healing.
  • Walk around barefoot and wear loose fitting sandals to avoid applying pressure on the infected nail. Cover the wound lightly if you have to step out with it. This will give the underlying tissues a chance to rest and cure faster.
  • Roll a thin thread of cotton and try to wedge it between the toenail and the nail bed. Replace the cotton thread three to four times daily. This will prevent the nail from coming in contact with the nail bed; and this will help to stop the nail from growing inward into the skin.  
  • Clean the sides of the swollen, infected nail \by dipping it in hydrogen peroxide three times a day. Follow this by applying an over the counter ointment of iodine. Adding a prescribed antibiotic cream after this cleansing regimen is also helpful.
  • For ingrown pain relief, you can apply a tooth pain reliever in the area to numb it. You should consult your doctor for the brands with the right composition to bring pain relief.   
  • Wrap a small slice of lemon on the infected area overnight. The mild acid from the lemon will help kill the germs, reduce the infection and lessen the swelling.
  • Wash the foot four to five times a day with mild soap and water.

You may be prescribed antibiotics as a part of the treatment. In certain severe cases, doctors may even recommend surgery to treat an ingrown toenail as a last resort. Home remedies for the condition can only help heal to a certain degree, it is best to consult a podiatrist when you start suffering from the condition.

Diet for Ingrown Nail

An ingrown nail is not some sort of disease or health condition brought on by a nutritional deficiency or excesses for that matter, so the idea of curing the condition or treating and ingrown nail infection with diet may seem preposterous. While the problem of ingrown nails cannot be addressed through any kind of diet, an infection could to some extent benefit from a healthy diet. It should also be pointed out that the health of the nails depends on good eating habits and it works well to include a balanced and healthy diet in your routine if you do suffer from any nail disease.

Nails and hair are dead tissues and are usually the last to receive nutrients, which is why it is good to include the following foods rich in nutrients:

  • Food rich in iron, protein, calcium, zinc and vitamins C, B (biotin) and A are essential for good nail health. They all have different functions and including these in your diet will improve the overall health of the nails.  
  • Include foods rich in proteins like eggs, fish, lean red meat, low- fat dairy products, poultry, liver and salmon in your diet. For people who follow a vegetarian diet, soya, nuts, pulses and seeds are a good option.
  • Biotin, a vitamin B group nutrient is essential for nail and hair health. It keeps the nails strong and can be found in liver, eggs, fish and nuts.
  • Iron is important as it keeps the nails from becoming brittle and curved. The best sources of iron in food would include eggs, red meat and in vegetables you could include peas, beans, spinach, lentils and dried fruits. A small amount of iron is also found in fortified breakfast cereals.
  • Vitamin C aids iron absorption in the body. Since iron is important for maintaining healthy nails, including, the vitamin in your diet is highly recommended. You should eat vitamin C rich foods like green leafy vegetables, lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, citrus fruits and juices, berries and kiwi fruit along with iron rich foods for best results.
  • You should also make it a point to drink an adequate amount of water every day to avoid dehydration that could dry up the nail cuticles. You should drink lots of fresh fruit and vegetable juices or consume juicy fruits and vegetables in salads to keep your fluid and vitamin levels high.
  • Zinc is an immune boosting mineral and can be found in seafood, cheese, nuts, poultry and seeds.

Suggestions for Ingrown Nail

Always cut your nails straight and never round them of at the edges, as this exposes the nail bed and makes it susceptible to pressure, damage and infection. Clipping the toenails in the middle to a "V" shape is said to help the nails grow inwards from the middle instead of from the sides. You should keep an "ingrown toenail file" handy and clip away at the infected nail to get rid of the inward growth as soon as the nail starts growing in the direction, especially if you suffer from frequent relapses of the condition.

Ingrown Nail Treatments - more information