If you have mild ingrown toenails and they are not bothering you, then you might wonder what the big deal is. Why does your doctor always insist on looking at them? Why are you always warned to see a podiatrist if they get red or painful? As it turns out, this all comes back to infection. Not all ingrown toenails are infected, and not all ingrown toenails will ever become infected. However, there is a risk of infection, and that risk is what drives many of the care and treatment protocols for ingrown toenails. Here's a closer look.

Why do ingrown toenails become infected?

It's not actually the nail that becomes infected; it's the skin next to the nail. As the nail grows into the skin, it can expose some of the tissue and lead to a wound. The feet are not always clean. They get exposed to plenty of bacteria while they are inside moist socks and shoes all day. If some of those bacteria find their way into the sore caused by the ingrown nails, then you can develop an infection.

What are the signs that an ingrown toenail is infected?

The primary signs that an ingrown nail has become infected are redness, soreness, and inflammation. The area around the nail will usually become very painful to the extent that you can't press on it or wear tight shoes. You may also see some pus, especially if you do press on the area next to your nail.

How do you treat an infected ingrown toenail?

Infections near the toenail can easily spread to the rest of your foot, and even into your bloodstream. This is particularly true if you are a diabetic. As such, you should always see a podiatrist if you think your ingrown nail may be infected. They can prescribe antibiotics and trim the nail in a way that makes you better able to apply topical antibacterial creams and gels effectively.

How can you keep ingrown nails from becoming infected?

If you have ingrown nails that are not currently infected, make sure you have a podiatrist trim them to keep them from getting worse. Keep your socks and shoes clean, and try to wear open-toed shoes as often as possible to keep your feet dry. Wash your feet as soon as you take your shoes off each night.

Ingrown nails are primarily a concern because of their tendency to get infected. If you can take some steps to prevent infections and also act promptly if you do develop an infection, you'll be on the right track.

Talk to a podiatrist today for more information about ingrown toenails.