Three of the most common toenail problems are nail fungus, ingrown toenails and toenail trauma. Nail fungus causes nails to become thick and discolored, while ingrown nails occur when the corners or sides of the nails grow into the flesh of the toe. Ingrown nails cause pain, redness, swelling, and infection in some cases. Toenail trauma is distinguished by blood and bruising beneath the toenail, nail thickening or toenail loss.
Nail fungus, also called onychomycosis, is a slow-growing fungal infection that is caused by the same type of fungi responsible for athlete's foot. The infection enters through small cuts or breaks in the nail that are caused by trauma. The fungus spreads from person to person and is often acquired through contact with warm, wet places like locker rooms. Prevent nail fungus by refraining from walking barefoot in public areas, keeping the insides of shoes dry, changing wet socks frequently, wearing shoes that fit well and using an absorbent antifungal powder on feet.
Ingrown toenails are often caused by cutting nails too short, not cutting them straight across, wearing shoes that are too tight or nail trauma. Treatment for mild cases involves soaking the affected foot in warn water for 15 to 20 minutes to provide temporary relief from pain. Cases that are more severe require surgery to have the ingrown aspect of the nail removed. This usually results in quick relief from pain, although it is often a recurring problem.