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You can often treat an ingrown toenail yourself with proper hygiene, soaking, and other remedies. However, speak with a doctor if you have a severe ingrown toenail or it’s infected.
The common, curly ingrown toenail
An ingrown toenail is a common condition. It usually affects your big toe.
Let’s understand what’s happening with your toe so you can treat it successfully.
You’ll first want to take a closer look to decide how severely ingrown your nail is. You can often treat a slightly ingrown nail by yourself.
Here are steps you can follow for a mildly ingrown nail:
- Disinfect all nail clippers, tweezers, cuticle sticks, and other pedicure tools with rubbing alcohol or hydrogen peroxide and let dry.
- Soak your foot in warm water for 10 to 30 minutes to soften the nail and skin. You can add Epsom salt, tea tree oil, or other disinfecting essential oils to the footbath. You can also try a vinegar foot soak.
- Dry your foot and toes thoroughly with a soft towel.
- Gently massage the skin around the ingrown toenail. This may feel uncomfortable.
- Gently scrape the skin at the sides of the nail with a nail file or cuticle stick to remove any dead skin cells.
If the nail hasn’t curled all the way over or into the skin:
- You might be able to encourage your toenail to unroll using your fingernail or a cuticle stick.
- Wash your hands and clean under your fingernails before and after touching your feet.
- Gently lift the edge of the toenail and put a small bit of cotton ball under the nail to encourage it to grow in a different direction not into the skin or nailbed.
- Wear open-toed shoes or shoes with a wide toe box.
- Monitor your nail’s growth and replace the bit of cotton as needed.
For a more ingrown nail, if the area around the nail isn’t infected:
- Cut your toenail straight across with toenail clippers, keeping the nail long enough to get your fingernail under it; at least 1 to 2 millimeters at the white nail end.
- Use a pair of tweezers to gently push a tiny piece of cotton or gauze into the corner of your toenail where it’s ingrown. This helps to make a space between the nail and the skin.
- Cut the visible nail corner or the ingrown spur away to help relieve the pressure and pain. This may be easiest using precision toenail clippers, also sometimes called podiatrist grade clippers and toenail nippers.
- Cleanse the area with tea tree oil or another disinfectant.
- Wear open- or wide-toed shoes.
Your doctor, orthopedic surgeon, or podiatrist (a foot doctor) can treat an ingrown nail with a minor procedure, or in certain cases with surgery.
This typically involves numbing the toe or foot with an injection. The skin on top of the ingrown nail may be removed with a scalpel.
The ingrown nail section is then partly or completely removed. You will not feel any pain during the procedure expect for the injection.
If you have ingrown nails often, your surgery may include use of a laser or chemical procedure to remove a part of the nail bed permanently so that it no longer grows as wide.
Caring for your toe and overall health after the nail surgery is important. You want to make sure your toe heals properly and prevent infection.
After your surgery, you may need to:
- Take antibiotics.
- Take pain medication as needed (acetaminophen, ibuprofen).
- Apply an antibiotic cream to the area twice a day or more.
- Apply a numbing cream or anti-inflammatory cream if needed.
- Keep the area clean and dry.
- Wear loose or open-toed shoes or sandals.
- Change the dressing on your toe as needed.
- See your doctor or nurse for a dressing change if needed.
- See your doctor for follow-up appointments.
- Avoid excessive walking, jogging, or running for two to four weeks after surgery.
- Eat a balanced diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables to help you heal well, and avoid smoking.
If you have a fungal nail infection you may need to take antifungal medication or apply a medicated cream to clear it up before your surgery.
Cutting your toenails correctly can help prevent an ingrown nail. Here are some tips:
- Avoid peeling or picking at your toenails.
- Cut your toenails straight across or in a shallow (sideways) oval shape.
- Do not cut your nails too short — the top white part should still show.
- Do not over-round or angle the edges of your toenails into a V-shape.
- File your toenails down instead of clipping to avoid cutting them too short.
- Keep the corners of your nails straight or very slightly sloped
- Properly disinfect nail clippers, cuticle sticks, and other pedicure tools before and after use.
- Use the right tools; foot doctors recommend using large nail clippers for the toes. This helps to make a clean, straight cut.
One way to prevent cutting your toenail too short is to keep it even with the top part (tip) of your toe.
It’s also important to avoid wearing shoes that squeeze or put too much pressure or stress on your toes. This includes high heels and narrow or point-toe shoes, and any shoes you use for walking, hiking, or running.
Check your toenails for any discoloration or bumpy ridges. This may be a sign of a fungal toe infection. See your doctor for treatment.
You can sometimes take care of an ingrown toenail yourself. However, if you have a chronic condition or an infection, treating it yourself may make it worse. An infection from an ingrown nail can spread to your foot, leg, or body. It can also infect the toe bone.
See a doctor if you:
- have severe pain
- see signs of an infection such as pain, redness, or pus on the toe
- have a sore or infection anywhere on the feet
- have diabetes or another chronic illness
Ingrown toenails happen when the side or top corner of your toenail grows in to the flesh around the nail. One or both sides of the big toenail can be ingrown.
This can happen when the nail becomes damaged, bent, or has been growing against external pressure. One example is if you wear the same shoes every day and those shoes compress your toes together or put pressure on the side of your toe and nail. Instead of growing straight, the toenail edge curls down, digging into the skin and flesh.
Several things can put pressure on or damage the nail, increasing the risk of an ingrown toenail. These include:
- a fungal or bacterial infection in the nail
- constantly sweaty or damp feet
- damaged or torn nails
- dry, brittle, or cracked nails
- misshapen or deformed toenails
- not trimming the nail properly
- wearing high-heeled shoes
- wearing tight, narrow, or poorly fitting shoes
Injuring your nail by stubbing your big toe can lead to an ingrown nail. Other causes include chronic illnesses or not getting the right nutrients in your diet for healthy nail growth. Family history or being on certain medications also increases your risk.
It can also simply be anatomical. The shape and size of parts of your toe may make you more prone to getting ingrown nails.
Ingrown nails are a common nail condition. See your doctor if:
- you keep getting ingrown nails
- it doesn’t improve
- it causes too much pain.
Don’t try to treat it yourself if your ingrown nail is deep or infected.
Your foot doctor can show you the best way to cut your toenails to prevent an ingrown nail. Knowing what is causing your ingrown nail can help prevent it from happening again.
Additionally, talk to your doctor about the best types of nail clippers to use and the best footwear to keep your toes and nails healthy.