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Ingrown Toenail: Remedies, When to See Your Doctor, and More

Why does this happen?

An ingrown toenail happens when the corner or edge of your toenail curves and grows into the surrounding skin. This may cause pain, redness, and swelling. The condition is very common in both men and women. Your big toe is most likely to be affected.

Common causes of ingrown toenails are:

  • toenail trauma, such as stubbing your toe
  • wearing shoes that are too tight
  • cutting toenails too short
  • cutting toenails at an angle

To prevent infection, it’s important to treat ingrown toenails as soon as they occur. Mild cases may require minor treatment with home remedies. Serious cases may need surgical intervention.

Here are 10 common ingrown toenail remedies.

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Foot soak

1. Soak in warm, soapy water

Soaking the affected foot may help reduce swelling and ease pain. You can soak your foot in warm, soapy water three times a day for up to 20 minutes at a time. Castile soap is a good option. Adding Epsom salts to the water may bring additional relief.

Apple cider vinegar

2. Soak in apple cider vinegar 

Apple cider vinegar is a folk remedy for almost everything these days, including ingrown toenails. It’s believed to have antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, and pain-relieving abilities, although scientific evidence is limited at best.

To try this remedy, prepare a basin of warm water combined with ¼ cup apple cider vinegar. Soak the affected foot for up to 20 minutes daily. Dry your foot thoroughly after soaking.

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Pad the area

3. Pack the area with dental floss or cotton

Mayo Clinic recommends tucking small bits of cotton or waxed dental floss under the edge of an ingrown toenail to encourage proper nail growth. Not every medical group agrees.

According to the American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons, placing cotton under your nail may increase pain and allow harmful bacteria to thrive. Soaking the cotton or floss in alcohol before application may help reduce this risk.

Ointment

4. Apply antibiotic ointment

Using over-the-counter antibiotic ointment or cream can promote healing and help reduce the risk of infection. Apply the ointment to the affected toenail following the manufacturer’s instructions, usually up to three times daily. These ointments include Neosporin, Polysporin, and Bactroban. Be sure to bandage the toenail after application.

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Footwear

5. Wear comfortable shoes and socks

Shoes and socks that are too tight can crowd your toes. This is considered to be a leading cause of ingrown toenails. To help prevent an ingrown toenail from developing or worsening, wear shoes and socks or hosiery that fit but still leave ample space in the toe bed. During the healing process, avoid shoes or wear sandals as much as possible to limit pressure on your toenails.

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Medication

8. Take an over-the-counter pain reliever

Acetaminophen (Tylenol) may help relieve ingrown toenail pain. Side effects are unusual unless you take more than the daily recommended amount of 3,000 milligrams daily or you take it with alcohol.

If swelling is present, ibuprofen (Advil) may be a better option because it relieves both pain and swelling. Some common side effects of ibuprofen include abdominal pain, upset stomach, and diarrhea.

Take all over-the-counter pain relievers as directed by the manufacturer or your doctor.

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Toe protector

7. Use a toe protector

A toe protector provides a cushioning barrier for ingrown toenails. Toe protectors are available as rings that fit around the affected area or as a covering for the entire toe. Some brands of toe protectors, such as Dr. Scholl’s, come with a medicated gel to help soften toenails for easy trimming. Use the treatment as directed until the ingrown toenail is gone.

Toe brace

6. Try a toe brace

Toe braces are usually made of thin, adhesive, composite material and are glued to the top of your toe. They’re meant to help shield your skin from a sharp, ingrown nail and lift the nail edges as your nail grows. Toe braces are available online and in some pharmacies.

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Antibiotics

9. See your doctor about oral antibiotics

Oral antibiotics aren’t routinely prescribed for uninfected ingrown toenails. There’s no evidence that they improve the condition. Still, if you have an infected nail or a weakened immune system, you may need oral antibiotics.

Some signs of infection are:

  • increased redness
  • throbbing pain
  • increased swelling
  • pus
  • warmth in the affected toe and its surrounding area
  • foul odor

Some antibiotics used to treat infected ingrown toenails are ampicillin, amoxicillin, and vancomycin.

Nail removal

10. Consider nail removal

If an ingrown toenail doesn’t improve with home remedies, partial or full removal of the nail may be necessary. Using a local anesthetic, a doctor may remove part of the nail’s border, the underlying nail bed, or part of the middle growth plate.

In severe, recurring cases, the entire ingrown nail may be removed. This is a last resort, and a potentially painful solution that may increase your risk of infection. It also increases the risk that your toenail will be misshapen as it grows back.

Learn more: How to treat an ingrown toenail »

See a doctor

When to see a doctor

Minor foot problems like ingrown toenails may cause serious complications in some people. See your doctor if you have an ingrown toenail and you have diabetes or another condition that causes poor circulation, or you have a compromised immune system.

You should also see a doctor if:

  • Pain and swelling are severe.
  • Home remedies don’t improve the condition.
  • You have an allergic skin reaction to a home remedy.
  • You have questions about how to care for an ingrown toenail.

Check out: Diabetes foot care »

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Outlook

Outlook and prevention

Most ingrown toenails aren’t serious. They should improve within a week or so without causing permanent damage with the proper home care. Left untreated, ingrown toenails may cause severe pain and infection that could spread to the bone.

It’s common for ingrown toenails to recur, especially if you don’t take steps to prevent them.

Prevention tips
  • Move around carefully to avoid toenail trauma.
  • Trim your toenails straight across, no shorter than the tip of your toe.
  • If your job increases your risk of toenail injury, wear protective footgear.
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