What to Do When You Get an Ingrown Toenail

by | Feb 1, 2019

In our last blog, we discussed ways to help prevent an ingrown toenail from occurring. But what do you do when you already have one?

In many cases, an ingrown toenail is mild enough to effectively manage with home treatment. However, there are times when it’s better to have the situation addressed by us instead. There are also things you should never, ever do when attempting to treat your own toenail.

Ingrown toenail treatment

Home Treatments for Ingrown Toenails

Your ingrown toenail is likely treatable at home if:

  • It feels like more of a nuisance than a severe source of pain.
  • It does not show any signs of infection, such as pus, spreading redness from the area, or being very warm to the touch.
  • You do not have diabetes. (You should always at the very least contact us about an ingrown toenail if you have diabetes or a circulation problem that places your feet at higher risks of sores and infections.)

If you fit these criteria, then you can try giving home treatments a shot. And if you’re not sure whether you fit all these criteria don’t hesitate to give us a call. We’ll be happy to give you advice, and always prefer you to be safe than sorry!

Here are some suggested ways to treat your ingrown toenail at home. The primary focuses are on relieving discomfort and guiding the nail back away from the skin.

Soak your feet. Place your feet in warm water for 15-20 minutes at a time, three or four times per day. Soaking your feet will help relieve tenderness and reduce any swelling that may be occurring.

We know you might only have an ingrown toenail on one foot, but why not soak the other as well if it feels good? While not necessary, you can add some Epsom salts if you wish. You probably don’t want to throw in a bunch of aromatherapy oils and such in there, however. Those will risk further irritation to an already sensitive area.

Put a barrier between your nail and the skin. A small bit of cotton or a piece of waxed dental floss will be easy enough to slip beneath the ingrown edge of the nail without causing much discomfort. This will help guide the nail to grow away from the skin.

Change out this piece of cotton or floss regularly. A good time to do so is after a foot soak, when the nail and skin are both a bit softer. Don’t leave the same piece of cotton or floss in every day, though—change it at least once per day.

Apply antibiotic cream and a bandage. You still don’t want an infection, and your toes can get into dirty enough places as it is. Carefully place some antibiotic ointment on the problem area, then cover it with a simple bandage.

Whenever you replace the floss or cotton, replace the ointment and bandage, too.

Take an over-the-counter pain reliever, if needed. Products such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen, and naproxen sodium can help relieve some of the pain if your toe is bothering you (say, you have to spend all day walking around on your job). Never take more than the recommended dosage!

Keep your toe free as much as possible. While it can’t always be avoided, you will be a lot more comfortable and your toe will have a better opportunity to heal quickly if it’s not crammed into a shoe all day.

If weather and dress codes permit it, wear a sandal or open-toed shoe as your ingrown toenail recovers. When you’re at home, keep the socks and shoes off.

Healthy toes

What You Should NEVER Do

When you have an ingrown toenail, there’s always a temptation to dig into it, drag the offending part of the nail out and terminate it with a pair of clippers.

Many podiatrists have a term for this: bathroom surgery. And it’s bad news.

Digging into your nail like this only tends to do two things:

  1. Cause bleeding and create more opportunities for an infection to creep in.
  2. Cause a lot more pain than you would have had if you had taken a much gentler approach.

If you should ever clip at the affected nail at all (and we know we can’t really stop you), do so after you have separated the nail from the skin with floss or cotton. And even then, only make very small clips to take off a corner. The clipping itself should not cause you pain!

And remember, never even go this far if you have diabetes. The risks of complications through injury are just too high.

When Home Treatment Isn’t Enough

Remember that not all ingrown toenails should be treated at home. If you’re not seeing any improvement within a few days, or you start feeling worse pain or signs of infection, it’s time to give us a call at Ankle & Foot Specialist of N.J.

You should also bring us into the picture if your ingrown toenail just keeps coming back, no matter what methods you try to prevent it. You might have a genetic tendency for your nails to curve inward, and more advanced procedures can provide a solution.

We have three offices within the region, all ready to help you! Call us at:

  • Hillsborough – (908) 722-3668
  • Edison – (908) 222-8980
  • Warren – (732) 356-3668

You may also reach us via our online contact form, if you prefer.

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