TUESDAY, March 6 (HealthDay News) -- High heels and other snug-fitting or pointed shoes are a leading cause of ingrown toenails, according to podiatrists.

By putting constant pressure on the toes, the big toenails can grow into the skin and cause an infection, the experts at Loyola University Health System said, yet many women are unwilling to trade in their heels for more practical shoes.

"Ingrown toenails can be painful, but many women are willing to cope with the discomfort in order to continue wearing their high heels," Rodney Stuck, a professor of podiatry medicine, said in a university news release. "However, more serious complications can arise and cause permanent damage to the toenails, if they are left untreated."

Stuck advised women who wear heels to take the following steps to prevent ingrown toenails:

  • Trace each foot on cardboard and cut it out. Be sure the cutouts fit into a new pair of shoes before buying them to ensure they are not too narrow.
  • Avoid wearing tight stockings.
  • Don't wear heels longer than necessary.
  • Avoid walking too far or standing too long in heels.
  • Cut toenails straight across the top.
  • Soak feet using Epsom salts or a soapy, lukewarm bath.
  • Make sure feet are dried well with a clean towel.
  • Apply a mild antiseptic to the toes.

If a toe becomes painful, swollen or has a discharge, it is likely infected and needs to be treated by a podiatrist, the experts said. If the condition resists treatment, the toenail can be removed.

Stuck pointed out that people with diabetes must be particularly careful about ingrown toenails. Because they may have poor circulation, healing can be more difficult. Diabetics may also experience nerve damage in their feet, which could cause numbness.

"If diabetic women do not feel discomfort, they may neglect to treat the ingrown toenails until it is too late," Stuck explained. "If ignored, this condition, which is easily treatable, can lead to an amputation."

More information

The U.S. National Library of Medicine has more about ingrown toenails.