An ingrown toenail is a common condition in which the corner or side of one of your toenails grows into the soft flesh of that toe. Signs and symptoms of an ingrown toenail include pain and tenderness in your toe along one or both sides of the nail, redness around your toenail, swelling of your toe around the nail and infection of the tissue around your toenail.
Common causes of an ingrown toenail include wearing shoes that crowd your toes, cutting your toenails too short or not straight across, injury to your toenail or unusually curved toenails.
Left untreated or undetected, an ingrown toenail can infect the underlying bone and lead to a serious bone infection.
Often, you can take care of ingrown toenails on your own (see home remedies below). However, if the pain is severe or spreading, your doctor can take steps to relieve your discomfort and help you avoid complications of an ingrown toenail.
If you have diabetes or another condition that causes poor circulation to your feet, you're at greater risk of complications from an ingrown toenail. Complications can be especially severe if you have diabetes because the circulation and nerve supply to your feet can be impaired. Therefore, any relatively minor injury to your foot (cut, scrape, corn, callus or ingrown toenail) may not heal properly and lead to infection. A difficult-to-heal open sore (foot ulcer) may require surgery to prevent gangrene (the decay and death of tissue resulting from an interruption in blood flow to a certain area of your body).
You can typically treat ingrown toenails through lifestyle and home remedies, such as soaking your foot regularly in warm water and applying an antibiotic cream. If pain continues or there's pus or redness that seems to be spreading, see your doctor. You may need to have part of the nail removed and antibiotics prescribed for infection. See your doctor if you experience severe discomfort in your toe or pus or redness that seems to be spreading, have diabetes or any circulation impairment to your lower extremities and experience any foot-sore or infection.
Possible medical ingrown toenail treatments include:
Cotton under nail. For a slightly ingrown nail (redness and pain but no discharge), your doctor may place cotton under the edge of the nail to separate the nail from the overlying skin. This helps the nail eventually grow above the skin edge.
Partial nail removal. For a more severe ingrown toenail (redness, pain and pus), your doctor may trim or remove the ingrown portion of the nail. Before this procedure, your doctor may numb your toe by injecting it with an anesthetic.
Nail and tissue removal. For a recurrent ingrown toenail, your doctor may suggest removing a portion of your toenail along with the underlying tissue (nail bed) to prevent that part of your nail from growing back. This procedure can be done with a chemical, a laser or other methods.
Your doctor may also recommend using topical or oral antibiotics for ingrown toenail treatment, especially if the toe is infected or at risk of becoming infected.
You can treat most ingrown toenails at home. Here are some home treatments for ingrown toenails:
Soak your feet. Do this for 15-20 minutes three times a day in warm water. Soaking reduces swelling and relieves tenderness.
Place cotton under your toenail. Put fresh bits of cotton under the ingrown edge after each soaking. This will help the nail eventually grow above the skin edge. Change the cotton daily until the pain and redness subside.
Use a topical antibiotic. Apply an antibiotic ointment and bandage the tender area.
Choose sensible footwear. Consider wearing open-toed shoes or sandals until your toe feels better.
Take pain relievers. If there's severe pain, take over-the-counter pain relievers, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol, others) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others) to relieve the pain until you can make an appointment with your doctor.
Check your feet. If you have diabetes, check your feet daily for signs of ingrown toenails or other foot problems.
MC Ortega is the former publicist for the late Walter Payton, Coca-Cola and Dunkin’ Donuts. Ortega is a senior communications and messaging executive specializing in media relations, social media, program development and crisis communications. Also, Ortega is an avid traveler and international shopper. Ortega resides with her partner, Craig, dog, Fionne and extensive shoe collection. Ortega also enjoys jewelry design/production and flamenco dancing.