How to Treat Your Ingrown Toenail

Ingrown toenails are very common. In fact, an estimated 20 out of 100 people who visit their healthcare provider because of foot problems have an ingrown toenail.

Because of the irritation and pain it causes, most people notice an ingrown toenail right away. Treating it early on is key to helping manage inflammation and preventing infection.

When infection is present, it's always important to speak with your healthcare provider or podiatrist to discuss treatment options. However, there are some well-known home remedies that can help relieve the pain.

This article will discuss what to do if your toenail is infected and ingrown and when to see a healthcare provider.

Ingrown Toenail

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Symptoms

An ingrown toenail happens when one or both sides of the nail begin to grow into the soft skin of the toe. One of the first signs of an ingrown toenail is pain around the affected area.

In addition to pain, signs and symptoms of an infected ingrown toenail include:

  • Liquid or pus discharge
  • Warm to the touch
  • Pink or red color
  • Swelling
  • Foul odor

Stages of Ingrown Toenail Severity

Stage 1: The nail has grown into the skin, causing pain and inflammation.


Stage 2: New, inflamed tissue grows around the edges of the ingrown toenail. This can lead to drainage or pus.


Stage 3: The skin surrounding the toenail is chronically inflamed and is oozing pus. The inflamed tissue begins to grow over the nail.

Causes

Many things can cause ingrown toenails. The most common cause of ingrown toenails is improper nail trimming. Cutting your toenails too short can result in the skin on the sides covering the corners of the nail. This causes the nail to grow into the skin.

Other common causes of ingrown toenails include:

  • Poor-fitting shoes (shoes that are too tight or too narrow)
  • Toe injuries
  • Toe or foot deformities
  • Cutting your nails in a rounded shape (they should be cut straight across)
  • Regular physical activity or playing sports
  • Toenails that are too large for your toes (genetic predisposition)

Risks

The biggest risk associated with an ingrown toenail is infection. Paronychia, which is commonly caused by ingrown nails, is an infection of the skin around a nail or toenail. The infection can cause the skin to become very swollen and painful. A pus-filled blister may also begin to form.

Paronychia often happens when the skin around a nail is injured or irritated. This can lead to bacteria entering the nail and causing bacterial paronychia.

If it is caught early, the condition can be treated at home. In rare cases, the infection may spread through the toe and into the bone. This is known as osteomyelitis.

A person with diabetes, nerve damage, or poor circulation may be more prone to infection because their wounds heal more slowly.

An infection that is difficult to treat may lead to gangrene, which causes the tissue to die due to a lack of blood supply. This condition often requires surgery or an amputation.

Treatment

There are several things you can do at home to help alleviate the pain and discomfort caused by an ingrown toenail.

Soak in Epsom Salt

Try to soak your foot in warm salt water for 20 minutes. To make saltwater, fill your bathwater enough to soak your toe. You can also use a clean bucket. Add 1-2 teaspoons of Epsom salt to the warm water. Repeat this two to three times a day to relieve discomfort. If it's too painful, lower the amount of Epsom salt or just soak in warm water.

Nail Edge Separation With Dental Floss

After soaking your foot, wedge a piece of cotton or dental floss under the corner of the nail that's growing into the skin. Put antibiotic ointment on the affected area two times per day to help prevent infection.

You can also take over-the-counter pain medications such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil) to reduce inflammation and discomfort.

Keep Your Feet Dry

Aside from daily soaks, your feet should remain dry. You should also wear loose-fitting shoes or sandals to prevent the area from becoming more irritated.

You should never attempt to cut out an ingrown toenail on your own. This can be very painful and lead to a serious infection.

When to See a Healthcare Provider

Call your healthcare provider if your condition doesn't improve within a few days. When ingrown toenails are not treatable at home, your healthcare provider may refer you to a foot doctor, or podiatrist, who can determine the best treatment option for your nail.

Treatments your healthcare provider may recommend include:

  • Surgery to remove part of the nail (partial nail avulsion)
  • Prescribing antibiotics
  • Trimming the ingrown section of the nail

If your healthcare provider believes the infection has spread, they may order a blood test. They may also order an MRI, X-ray, or bone scan.

Summary

Most ingrown toenails aren't serious and will resolve on their own with foot soaks, antibiotic ointment, and lifting the nail up from the affected area. Although rare, an infection can become severe and cause serious problems. If you do not notice improvement after a couple of days, you should speak with your healthcare provider to discuss treatment options.

A Word From Verywell

Ingrown toenails are painful and annoying. Thankfully, there are steps you can take at home to alleviate pain and inflammation and help get you back on your feet again. Once your ingrown toenail resolves, it's essential to maintain good foot hygiene to prevent reoccurrences.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What does an infected ingrown toenail look like?

    An infected toenail often appears red, swollen, and is painful to the touch. The toe may also drain liquid or pus.

  • Can you stop an ingrown toenail?

    Most ingrown toenails can be treated at home by simply soaking your feet in warm salt water, applying antibiotic ointment, and packing dental floss under the edge of the ingrown nail.

  • Is it possible to numb your toe in order to remove the ingrown toenail?

    If a severe infection is present, your healthcare provider will numb your toe in order to remove the part of the nail that is ingrown. This should only be done by a licensed medical professional.

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9 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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