How to take care of an ingrown toenail at home
When the corner or edge of your toenail curves and grows into the surrounding skin a ingrown toenail happens. This may cause pain, redness, and swelling. The condition is very common in both men and women. Your big toe is most likely to be affected.
Common causes of ingrown toenails are:
- toenail trauma, such as stubbing your toe
- wearing shoes that are too tight
- cutting toenails too short
- cutting toenails at an angle
To prevent infection, it’s important to treat ingrown toenails as soon as they occur. Mild cases may require minor treatment with home remedies. Serious cases may need surgical intervention.
Diagnosis and symptoms of ingrown toenails
Ingrown toenails can be painful, and they usually worsen in stages.
Early-stage symptoms include:
- skin next to the nail becoming tender, swollen, or hard
- pain when pressure is placed on the toe
- fluid building up around the toe
If your toe becomes infected, symptoms may include:
- red, swollen skin
- oozing pus
- overgrowth of skin around the toe
Treat your ingrown toenail as soon as possible to avoid worsening symptoms.
Treatment options for ingrown toenails
Ingrown toenails that aren’t infected can normally be treated at home. However, if your toenail has pierced the skin, or there is any sign of infection, seek medical treatment. Signs of infection include:
- redness and swelling
Treatment at home
You can treat most ingrown toenails at home. Here’s how:
- Soak your feet in warm water. Do this for 15 to 20 minutes three to four times a day. Soaking reduces swelling and relieves tenderness.
- Place cotton or dental floss under your toenail. After each soaking, put fresh bits of cotton or waxed dental floss under the ingrown edge. This will help the nail grow above the skin edge.
- Apply antibiotic cream. Put antibiotic ointment on the tender area and bandage the toe.
- Choose sensible footwear. Consider wearing open-toed shoes or sandals until your toe feels better.
- Take pain relievers. Over-the-counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen (Tylenol, others), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others) and naproxen sodium (Aleve) may help ease the toe pain.
Surgical treatment of ingrown toenails
There are different types of surgical treatments for ingrown toenails. Partial nail removal only involves removing the piece of nail that is digging into your skin. Your doctor numbs your toe and then narrows the toenail. According to the NHS, partial nail removal is 98 percent effective for preventing future ingrown toenails.
During a partial nail removal, the sides of the nail are cut away so that the edges are completely straight. A piece of cotton is placed under the remaining portion of the nail to keep the ingrown toenail from recurring. Your doctor may also treat your toe with a compound called phenol, which keeps the nail from growing back.
Total nail removal may be used if your ingrown nail is caused by thickening. Your doctor will give you a local pain injection and then remove the entire nail in a procedure called a matrixectomy.
After surgery, your doctor will send you home with your toe bandaged. You will probably need to keep your foot raised for the next one to two days and wear special footwear to allow your toe to heal properly.
Avoid movement as much as possible. Your bandage is usually removed two days after surgery. Your doctor will advise you to wear open-toe shoes and to do daily salt water soaks until your toe heals. You will also be prescribed pain relief medication and antibiotics to prevent infection.
Your toenail will likely grow back a few months after a partial nail removal surgery. If the entire nail is removed down to the base (the nail matrix under your skin), a toenail can take over a year to grow back.
Complications of ingrown toenails
If left untreated, an ingrown toenail infection can cause an infection in the bone in your toe. A toenail infection can also lead to foot ulcers, or open sores, and a loss of blood flow to the infected area. Tissue decay and tissue death at the site of infection are possible.
A foot infection can be more serious if you have diabetes. Even a small cut, scrape, or ingrown toenail may quickly become infected due to the lack of blood flow and nerve sensitivity. See your doctor right away if you have diabetes and are concerned about an ingrown toenail infection.
If you have a genetic predisposition to ingrown toenails, they may keep coming back or appear on multiple toes at once. Your quality of life may be affected by pain, infections, and other painful foot issues that require multiple treatments or surgeries. In this case, your doctor may recommend a partial or full matrixectomy to remove the toenails causing chronic pain.
Preventing ingrown toenails
Ingrown toenails can be prevented by making several lifestyle changes:
- Trim your toenails straight across and make sure that the edges do not curve in.
- Avoid cutting toenails too short.
- Wear proper fitting shoes, socks, and tights.
- Wear steel-toe boots if you work in hazardous conditions.
- If your toenails are abnormally curved or thick, surgery may be necessary to prevent ingrown nails.
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