When you have diabetes, your risk of foot problems increases significantly. This is because the effects of diabetes on your nerves and blood vessels damages two critical processes when it comes to the feet and legs:
- Your sensation – the ability to feel what’s happening to and around your feet
- Your circulation – the blood flow to and around your feet
When you have an ingrown toenail, this opens you up to a number of vulnerabilities. If you don’t know much about ingrown toenails, what exactly they are or how they’re caused – read this first.
You may not be able to detect the severity of your ingrown toenail – or an infection
As unpleasant as painful sensations are, our pain response is a very important way for our bodies to gauge what’s going on, when something is wrong, how bad it is, and alert us to take action. When we lightly strain a muscle, we get a mild pain sensation that lets us know to take it easy next time. When we break a bone, we get immense pain that lets us know to avoid putting pressure on the broken bone at all costs, so it doesn’t worsen, and can start to repair.
When our sensation is diminished, we can’t rely on our bodies to get this message to us accurately or efficiently. This leaves us vulnerable to feeling like we may have a mild achy toe, or a very minor ingrown nail that doesn’t require urgent care – whereas in reality it’s already been infected for days and needs to be treated ASAP, before the infection has a chance to reach the bone or we pick up a secondary infection.
If you try treating the ingrown nail yourself, it may be difficult to tell if you’ve got it out
One thing we’d expect when the nail spicule is removed from the skin it has grown into is a big feeling of relief, followed by minimal pain when pushing around the side of the nail (compared to what it used to be – you may still have some tenderness from the wound and the swelling). If your sensation is diminished, it may be hard to tell if you’ve removed all of the nail – or only part of it and it’s just going to keep giving you ongoing problems.
The beauty of having your nail spicule treated in our clinic by our podiatrists is that this is something we do every day, so can not only confidently tell when we have removed the entire nail spicule, but are also able to see it much more clearly. We also have the right tools and equipment to do a great job.
It’s worthwhile noting that we always always always recommend that those with diabetes have their ingrown toenails treated by a podiatrist only for your own safety and well-being, however, we know that this isn’t always what happens, hence it’s important to know these risks.
You may worsen the damage
Using home tools to dig around your toenail in an attempt to remove the penetrating nail spicule is a sure way to worsen the damage and make the wound bigger – leaving your body with a much bigger job when it comes to repairing the damage and closing the wound, not to mention increasing your risk of picking up an infection from the size of the wound. This is particularly important when you consider that…
You may have problems with healing the ingrown nail
Good, healthy blood flow is essential in any healing and repair process in the body. As this is impaired in diabetes sufferers, you don’t get the same volume of blood, oxygen and nutrients to the damaged site, which means closing the wound and repairing the damage can be a longer and more laborious process. It’s much the same as diabetic foot ulcers – which many people struggle and often have to have additional treatments and therapies to allow them to heal.
Your body may not be able to fight an ingrown toenail infection effectively
What else does a healthy blood supply carry with it? All the cells that fight infection and help keep us safe. When your body can’t do this effectively, the infection can worsen, spread, you can pick up a secondary infection, and generally, your health can suffer. All this without mentioning the pain and discomfort it can cause!
The best advice: Get your ingrown toenail taken care of by a podiatrist
Taking all the points above into consideration, this is why it’s incredibly important to have your ingrown toenail taken care of by a podiatrist when you have diabetes – and also when you don’t have diabetes. Don’t take our word for it – this is the official recommendation from Diabetes New Zealand, as well as Diabetes Australia and every diabetes resource we’ve ever seen worldwide.