Taking care of our toes in the era of COVID

There has been an increasing incidence of ingrown toenails which I am attributing to the fact that many of us are having to perform nail maintenance ourselves while nail salons remain closed. Thus, I thought it worth addressing since prevention is the best treatment.

Ingrown toenails occur when the skin on either side of the nail overgrows on top of the nail or the nail grows into the skin

The toe may become hard, swollen and tender. Most commonly this occurs because the nail is cut too short. When we trim our nails, we have a tendency to follow the natural curvature which is incorrect.

Nails should be cut straight across with a clean, sharp nail trimmer without tapering or rounding the corners. Trim the nails no shorter than the edge of the toe. Keep the feet clean and dry at all times.

Other causes of ingrown nails can be from trauma – wearing shoes that are too tight, performing activities that cause the foot to constantly hit the front of the shoe, stumping the toe or having the toe stepped on. There are also congenital causes such as the toenail is simply too large for the toe.

You can help treat an ingrown nail by soaking the toe in warm water with epsom salts three to four times per day for 15 to 30 minutes. After soaking, gently push the skin away from the nail. You can also take a piece of floss and slide back and forth between the nail and the skin. Keep the nail dry and avoid wearing tight shoes or socks. Also, taking anti-inflammatory medication such as ibuprofen can also help with the swelling and discomfort. The goal of therapy is to decrease the swelling and keep the skin away from the nail so the nail can grow out.

A condition known as paronychia can complicate ingrown nails. Paronychia is an infection in the soft tissue where the nail and skin meet. This can occur on fingers or toes. The toe or finger may become red, swollen, warm, very tender and pus may be seen draining from the area. If this occurs, you need to consult your physician. You may need antibiotics and is some cases, all or part of the nail may need to be removed.

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