What to Do With Your Ingrown Toenail

An ingrown toenail is a common condition for both men and women. It happens when the corner or side of one of your toenails grows into the soft flesh of that toe. It usually affects one of your big toes and if not taken care of properly can lead to pain, redness, swelling and sometimes infection. This usually happens when the toenail breaks the skin and bacteria enters and causes an infection. Sometimes, skin may start to grow over the ingrown part of the nail.

Many people with ingrown toenails take care of the condition by themselves. Warm soaks and proper nail trimming may be what is needed, but sometimes it is best to see a foot specialist when you first feel the pain and the pressure. If the pain is severe or it is spreading, a podiatrist can usually relieve your discomfort and help you avoid more complications of an ingrown toenail.

If you have diabetes or another condition that causes poor circulation to your feet, go directly to your doctor rather than risk any complications.

The signs and symptoms of an ingrown toenail include:

  • Pain and tenderness in your toe along one or both sides of the nail.
  • Redness around your toenail.
  • Swelling of your toe around the nail.
  • Infection of the tissue around your toenail. 

There are many reasons why ingrown toenails develop some of which are congenital. For instance, your toenails may be too large. People whose toenails curl under are also prone to the condition. Stubbing a toe or having a toe stepped on or some other trauma can cause a piece of the nail to jam into the skin.

High heels are also a problem because the heel transfers most of your body weight toward the front of the foot. This puts more pressure on the big toe and often deforms them over the years. This can also lead to ingrown toenails.

However, the most common cause is cutting your toenails incorrectly causing them to re-grow into the skin. Tight hosiery or shoes with narrow toe boxes make matters worse.

What You Can Do About an Ingrown Toe Nail 

Left untreated or undetected, an ingrown toenail can infect the underlying bone and lead to serious infection. If your symptoms are minor such as the toe being red and not very painful, and you don’t have a complicated condition such as diabetes, you can take some simple measures at home to treat your ingrown toe nail.

  • Soak the foot in lukewarm water 2 or 3 times a day for 15 minutes. I always add Epsom salts but I’m told there’s no scientific evidence this will heal anything or help the pain.
  • Massage the skin at the side of the toenail gently pushing it away from the nail.
  • Some suggest placing cotton under your toenail after soaking to help the nail grow above the skin edge. Some doctors say this is too risky because it traps bacteria.
  • However, do apply a topical antibiotic such as Neosporin or Polysporin or bacitracin. Cover the area with a band aid.

Preventing Ingrown Toenails

  • Wear sandals or other low-heeled open-toed shoes whenever possible.Wear low-heeled shoes that have enough room at the toes. If you wear stockings wear moisture-wicking socks so your toes move freely.
  • Keep your feet clean and dry.
  • Use a toenail clipper (not a fingernail clipper).
  • Cut your toenails across, going with the curve. Do not round the corners down and don’t cut the toenails too short.

If you toenail becomes infected it is  time to see a doctor such as a podiatrist (foot care specialist) or a dermatologist. You may need to take oral antibiotics for an infection and the doctor may have to remove the ingrown part of your nail.