When a toenail is ingrown, it is curved and grows into the skin, usually at the nail borders (the sides of the nail). This digging in of the nail irritates the skin, often creating pain, redness, swelling and warmth in the toe.
If an ingrown nail causes a break in the skin, bacteria may enter and cause an infection in the area, which is often marked by drainage and a foul odor. However, even if the toe is not painful, red, swollen or warm, a nail that curves downward into the skin can progress to an infection.
Sometimes initial treatment for ingrown toenails can be safely performed at home. However, home treatment is strongly discouraged if an infection is suspected or for those who have medical conditions that put feet at high risk, such as diabetes, nerve damage in the foot or poor circulation.
Sometimes a minor surgical procedure, often performed in the office, will ease the pain and remove the offending nail. After applying a local anesthetic, the doctor removes part of the nail’s side border. Some nails may become ingrown again, requiring removal of the nail root.
Following the nail procedure, a light bandage will be applied. Most people experience very little pain after surgery and may resume normal activity the next day.