Ingrown toenails are the most common nail impairment and occur when part of the nail digs into the soft tissue of the nail groove. Although an ingrown toenail on your big toe may seem like a minor inconvenience, it can cause significant pain and even become infected if not treated properly. If you detect the ingrown toenail early, you may be able to treat it at home with warm-water foot soaks, gently lifting the toenail edge away from the nail bed and wearing comfortable shoes. However, contact your doctor if the toenail doesn’t improve with home treatment.
Causes and Symptoms
An ingrown toenail occurs most commonly on the big toe and is often caused by improperly trimmed toenails, tight-fitting shoes, genetics or foot trauma such as stubbing your toe. Initially, the area around your ingrown toenail will feel hard, swollen and tender. You may also experience pain, redness and swelling, and you may see pus draining from the area. An infection may develop if the toenail is not treated promptly.
Soaking your foot in warm soapy or salty water may help decrease swelling and tenderness around the toenail and reduce the chance of infection. Immerse your foot in warm salty or soapy water three to four times per day for about 15-20 minutes per soak. Dry your feet thoroughly between soaks. If possible, filing the ingrown toenail right after your bath helps clean out the area under the nail and further prevent infection.
Lift and Bandage
You may be able to lift the edge of the ingrown toenail to reduce irritation at the site and help realign the nail. Insert a clean piece of cotton or waxed dental floss between the nail and your skin and bandage the area. Change this packing daily to reduce the bacteria buildup on the nail bandaging. The success of this technique depends on how flat your big toenail is, as lifting a highly curved toenail may not be possible.
Comfortable Shoes or Sandals
In between foot soaks, wear clean, dry socks and comfortable shoes to reduce further irritation of the toenail. If you can, wear sandals to decrease pressure on your toe and keep your feet dry. If you must wear closed-toe shoes, make sure they have plenty of room for your toes. Avoid wearing pointy-toed shoes, as these can worsen an ingrown toenail.
If your ingrown toenail doesn’t respond to these home treatments or if it becomes infected, you may need surgical treatment from a medical professional. Depending on the severity of the ingrown toenail, your doctor may surgically remove a portion of the nail, part of the underlying nail bed, some adjacent soft tissues and/or part of the growth center. Your doctor may prescribe oral antibiotics if you have an infection.