One of the most common services chiropodists provide for the foot, is nail care. Toenails, unlike their finger counterparts, can easily be overlooked and eventually cause certain foot conditions that require treatment. Frequently seen toenail problems include ingrown nails, fungal nails, and thickened nails. Nail care is also provided as a routine service for patients with diabetes or other difficulty maintaining the nails by themselves.
Ingrown nails occur when the side of a toenail begins to push on the adjacent skin. It can start as simple pressure, and if it is not addressed, it can actually puncture the skin and cause a wound that can easily become infected. For some people this can be a chronic problem. Risk factors include improperly fitting footwear (not just tight but also too loose!), sports or other repetitive activity, or simply damage from injury. Sometimes even the way the nail grows can increase risk—people with naturally more involuted or curved nails are more likely to experience ingrown toenails.
It is recommended to consult a chiropodist or podiatrist if prolonged pressure or pain starts to present with the side of the toenails. Your chiropodist has special tools that can properly cut and remove the offending nail, and shape and file it to prevent recurrence of the ingrown nail. Early management is crucial for preventing more serious infection and pain. With more chronic cases, your chiropodist or podiatrist can discuss further treatment options.
The nail itself can become infected as well, commonly by fungus. At a glance, a fungal nail will appear discoloured, usually yellowish-white, and the nail itself can be brittle and powdery. Thickening of the nail can also occur, but a thick nail does not necessarily mean a fungal nail. Toenails can also become thick as a result of trauma to the toe—sports injury, footwear problems, or stubbing the toe, for instance.
Your chiropodist can examine the nail and discuss the likelihood of a fungal infection. Your chiropodist can also prescribe or recommend anti-fungal medication to use in the case of fungal nails, and reduce its thickness to physically remove the fungus and allow topical medication to penetrate the nail better.
As fungus can spread by improperly cleaned tools, chiropodists only use tools that have been thoroughly sterilized to eliminate all fungal spores. Therefore, it is very important to be cautious when having the nails addressed elsewhere. Salons and spas offering nail services that do not use tools that are sterile for one-time use or properly sterilized after every use, are a very frequent source of infection for patients dealing with fungal nails.
At HealthCasa, we only use single-use disposable instruments, so there is no chance for cross-contamination or infection.
Patients with diabetes can suffer from nerve damage that can reduce sensation in the feet and toes, making it difficult to sense problems with the toenails, such as ingrown nails or simply if they have cut themselves when trying to trim the nails. For this reason, patients with diabetes are regularly advised to see a chiropodist or podiatrist for routine nail care every month or several months, depending on severity. When the nails or feet are not regularly maintained, patients with diabetes can develop chronic infections and diabetic wounds, which can become life-threatening because of the diminished healing associated with diabetes.
Other health issues
By the same token, patients with other health issues, such as poor eyesight, arthritis, or other issues affecting mobility, may also seek routine nail care from a chiropodist or podiatrist as a preventative measure.
Prevention is better than cure!
Rather than waiting for the toenails to become unruly, it is best to see a chiropodist as early as possible when nail problems arise. The toenails are actually quite commonly susceptible to injury, infection, and other issues. It is a good idea to keep a close eye on the toenails so you and your chiropodist can maintain your toes and feet to be as healthy as they can be!
Calvin Chui, D.Ch.