Nail Problems

The most common nail problems seen in our offices are ingrown nails and fungal nails. Both problems have multiple causes and can be painful, along with the unpleasant aesthetic factor.

Fungal infections are most often seen in the elderly population. The reason for this is that the body’s natural defense systems against the fungal infections have decreased over time. With decreased circulation the body is unable to deliver the defense cells to the feet. This leaves an opportunity for fungal infections to grow and thrive. Though it is more prevalent in the elderly population is seen in every age group, and ethnic group.

It is difficult to say exactly where a person contracts a fungal infection. Potential places include public pools, walking outside with bare feet, lakes or streams, public restrooms and showers, and even your own bathroom or home floors. Fungus is actually growing almost everywhere. For this reason prevention by avoidance is very difficult.

There are steps that you can take to decrease the chances of fungal infections. First, always wear shoes in public places. This especially includes gym locker rooms. The term athlete’s foot refers to a fungal infection of the feet. It got its name because of the prevalence in people who walk in locker rooms with bare feet. Second, keep your feet dry. Changing your socks when they’ve become moist with sweat will decrease the chances of fungus growing around the feet. Fungus enjoys a warm wet environment. If your skin is too dry it can cause cracks in the protective layer around your feet. This is a route for fungus to enter the skin and eventually the nails. Thirdly, if you start to notice a discoloration or other problem see your podiatrist quickly. Often early detection will allow treatment with topical ointments and not oral medications.

The majority of ingrown nails seen in the Podiatry office are often caused by the patient themselves. When the nails become curved people try to cut into the corners of the nail. Often times the entire nail is not cut leaving a spike of nail deep inside the border. This spike grows into the skin as the nail continues to grow. The body’s response is to build tissue to protect itself. The edge of the nail also tends to drain and become red and painful.

Preventing ingrown nails can be accomplished by not cutting into the corners and letting the edges of the nails grow out past the skin. Cutting the nails straight rather than curved into the corners can also prevent this problem.

Once an ingrown nail has occurred and has swelling and drainage it is considered to be infected. Often times patient will present to their primary physician or an urgent care where they will be prescribed antibiotics. This will help with the infection but will not resolve the problem unless the offending nail is removed from the skin. When they present to our Podiatry office a procedure will be performed to remove the nail from the border and allow the healing process to begin. This procedure is performed in the office under local anesthesia. The majority of patients do not need any other pain medication however Tylenol is more than sufficient.