An ingrown toenail is one of the most common foot afflictions, not to mention one of the most painful. The problem usually occurs on the big toe, with the sides or upper corners of the nail curling down and cutting into soft tissue, causing swelling and redness. Besides being painful, ingrown toenails can also lead to infection.
Symptoms of Ingrown Toenail
- Pain, tenderness, and red swollen skin around the margins of the toenail.
- Pus (white or yellowish fluid is a sign of infection)
- Warmth (the nail or surrounding skin)
What Causes Ingrown Toenail?
Improper trimming of the toenail, and tight shoes, socks, or stockings that press the nail into the tissue, are the two major causes of ingrown toenails.
Trauma can also cause an ingrown toenail if you accidentally stub your toe or drop something on it. The impact can break the nail or force the nail into the nail bed, causing the toenail to become ingrown. In addition, ingrown toenails can be a congenital issue simply caused by the toenail being too large.
What If You Do Nothing?
If the problem goes untreated, the entire side of the nail can become embedded in the skin as the nail grows outward. Even without this complication, the condition can become quite painful, particularly if an infection develops. If the infection is severe, it can spread to the rest of the toe and even into the foot.
Home Remedies for Ingrown Toenail
- Investigate the source. If you have developed an ingrown toenail, try to determine the cause and then eliminate it.
- Soak and pack. Soak your toe in warm water for 15 to 25 minutes to soften the nail and drain out any inflamed material under the nail. If the nail is not extremely painful or infected, gently massage over the skin then use clean cotton (wet) or antiseptic and tweezers to raise the nail and press a few strands of absorbent cotton or a piece of dental floss under the nail to keep it from further cutting the skin. Repeat this process daily, until the nail finally grows out past the nail fold.
- Take pain relievers. Take acetaminophen or nonprescription NSAIDs—aspirin, ibuprofen, or naproxen—as needed.
- Don’t cut in the middle. Contrary to myth, making a V-shaped cut in the middle of your toenail won’t make it grow toward the middle and thus won’t prevent an ingrown toenail.
- Consider changing your shoes. If possible, switch to open shoes, shoes with a wider toe box, or sneakers while your nail is healing.
- Be careful when you’re on your feet. Avoid running or other strenuous activities involving your feet while your toe heals.
- Trim your nails carefully. When trimming toenails, follow these directions to keep them from becoming ingrown:
- Cut the nail neatly. Use heavy long-handled scissors or a nail clipper.
- Don’t tear. Always trim the nail; never tear it away with your fingers.
- Always trim the nail straight across. The end of the nail should be square, not a half moon. Don’t trim too close. Finish the edge with an emery board or nail file and clean the grooves with an orange stick.
- Keep your feet clean and dry. Daily attention to hygiene may help head off infection.
- Wear comfortable shoes. Shoes should be comfortable when you buy them. They should not rub, pinch, or bind the front of your feet in the area known as the toe box. Avoid high heels or tight-fitting shoes; these place abnormal pressure on your toes.
- Protect your feet. If you expect to be lifting heavy objects, be sure to wear sturdy shoes to protect your feet.
Beyond Home Remedies: When To Call Your Doctor
Contact your physician if you suffer severe or increasing pain due to an ingrown toenail, if you cannot trim the nail, or if redness and swelling around the toe are accompanied by severe pain and/or a discharge. If you have diabetes, see a health professional for all foot problems.
What Your Doctor Will Do
Your physician will apply a local anesthetic and clean up the borders of your nail. Using a special tool, the physician may cut away the part of the nail growing into your flesh, instantly removing the pressure on the toe skin. Antibiotics may be prescribed, and daily soaking instructions will be recommended. Chemical or laser treatment may be needed to keep the nail from regrowing on that side.
The Complete Home Wellness Handbook
John Edward Swartzberg, M.D., F.A.C.P., Sheldon Margen, M.D., and the editors of the UC Berkeley Wellness Letter
Updated by Remedy Health Media