How to Deal with Ingrown Toenails

Ouch. It can be as simple as a quick fix that you can do at home, or it could be months of throbbing pain that ends you at a podiatrist removing part of your nail. Here are some practical tips to manage your ingrown toenails, and to prevent them from occurring again.

Ingrown toenails are a common but painful problem where the corner of the toenail grows into the flesh. The big toe is by far the most commonly affected, and it doesn’t just affect athletes. They often start with a minor cut when the nail breaks through the skin of the toes, often due to ill fitting footwear. This can lead to infection, inflammation, and pain.

Step 1: Assess the symptoms

Assessment isn’t too complicated. Toenails grow very slowly compared to the fingernails so you’ll have plenty of time to know whether you have a problem that you can’t fix yourself. An important exception is if you have diabetes or another condition that restricts blood flow to the feet. In this case, you should always consult a doctor.

  • If you have diabetes, always see your doctor if you suspect that you have ingrown nails. Skip right to step 3.
  • Pain and tenderness are symptoms that are hard to ignore and become constant over time.
  • Swelling and redness of the affected toe.
  • If left untreated, an infection of the toe may occur.
  • It’s best if you can take control of the situation early.

Step 2: Take Control Early

Toenails grow very slowly, and the symptoms are hard to ignore (throbbing pain and swelling) so you won’t miss it. If possible it’s best to properly deal with ingrown nails at a stage where you can deal with it at home.

  • Soak your feet in warm water several times a day to relieve pressure and pain.
  • Place dental floss under the nail after soaking in warm water will help encourage the nail to grow above the skin as it’s intended to1.
  • An over the counter antibiotic cream may help prevent infection.
  • If the area starts becoming infected or the pain is worsening, it’s time to see a doctor. Waiting isn’t likely to help at this point and you are only prolonging the pain.
  • For severe cases, your doctor will likely remove part of the nail. In some cases, the doctor may remove part of the nail bed to prevent a certain part of the nail from growing back if the problem is chronic. Yes, it will hurt, but the pain will go away quickly after the visit.

Step 3: Lifestyle and Prevention

Now that you’ve dealt with the ingrown toenails it’s important to minimize the chance that it’ll happen again. Unfortunately, some people are more prone to ingrown toenails due to the shape of their toes, so they need to be extra careful.

  • Wear the correct size shoes. Overly tight or poorly shaped shoes can crowd the toes, and exert pressure in a way that makes it easier for ingrown toenails to occur.
  • Cut your toenails straight across. Cutting in angles at the sides, or rounding in the shape of the nail encourages it to grow into the skin. This is especially important for the big toe, as it is by far the most common digit to be affected.
  • Don’t cut your toenails too short. This can cause the nail to curl down, increasing the chances of ingrown toenails.
  • If you have torn pieces of nail or broken nail pieces from injury, trim around it to avoid further damage until the nail around the area grows back properly.
  • Sometimes, ingrown toenails are unavoidable. Some people have toenails that grow in a curve and cause ingrown toenails more often. Other times, blunt trauma can cause ingrown toenails to develop, which are difficult to avoid.