Ingrown toenails are a painful condition in which the corners of your toenails dig into the soft tissue under them. They can affect any toe, but are most common on the big toe.
The best way to prevent ingrown toenails is to keep your nails trimmed properly. Make sure your nails are straight across and don’t curve in, and trim them only short enough to be even with the tips of your toes. People who have diabetes or other circulatory problems, or who can’t trim their own nails, should seek a podiatrist’s help to have their toenails professionally trimmed.
If you get an ingrown nail, the first step is to soak your feet in warm water 3 to 4 times a day until it heals. You may need to use a bandage or cotton wool to protect the ingrown area from further damage.
Next, gently massage the inflamed skin around your nail to reduce swelling and irritation. Apply an antiseptic or anti-inflammatory tincture, gel, or cream to the affected area. You can also try soaking your foot in a basin of warm soapy water to help soothe the irritated skin and prevent infection.
Change your footwear regularly and choose shoes that are not too tight or too loose. Tight shoes add pressure to the toes and can exacerbate an ingrown nail.
Avoid wearing high-heeled shoes, which can cause more ingrown toenails and increase your risk of falling. Wearing open or “breathable” shoes, such as sandals, is another helpful way to prevent ingrown toenails.
For severe ingrown toenails, a podiatrist (podiatry specialist) can do ingrown nail surgery that removes the portion of the nail that’s growing into the skin. This can be done in the doctor’s office after a local anesthetic has been injected to numb the toe.
Your podiatrist can also apply a chemical or laser to the part of your nail that’s ingrown to prevent it from growing back. This procedure is called ablation.
A podiatrist can also put a small piece of cotton wool under the ingrown toenail to prevent it from digging into your skin again. You’ll need to change the cotton wool every day to avoid infection.
If you have diabetes or vascular disease, or if your ingrown toenail isn’t getting better after a few weeks of home treatment, see your doctor or podiatrist. The doctor may need to drain pus or fluid from the ingrown nail and prescribe antibiotics.
Treating Ingrown Toenails at Home
For mild ingrown toenails, you can try soaking the toe in a salt water soak or a solution of soap and warm water for 15 minutes to soften the skin. You can also use antiseptic tinctures, gels, or creams on the inflamed area and apply a bandage to protect it from further damage.
You can also soak your foot in a hot bath for 15 to 20 minutes, 3 or 4 times a day. After the bath, you can gently massage the inflamed area with a cotton bud to ease pain and promote healing.