Fitness Facts: How to treat an ingrown toenail

By Connie Colbert
GCU Director of Health Services

An ingrown toenail occurs when the side or corner of the toenail digs into the skin of the toe and the skin around the toenail becomes red, swollen and often painful.

Connie Colbert

The skin sometimes will become infected and fill with pus. This happens mostly to the big toenail, but it can happen to any one of your toenails.

What causes it?

  • Shoes that are too tight or do not fit well can press the skin of your toe into the toenail.
  • Cutting your toenails incorrectly – too short or not straight across
  • An injury to your toe
  • People with deformed or misshaped toenails have a higher risk of ingrown toenails.
  • If you have diabetes or a medical condition that causes poor blood flow to your feet, you are more prone to ingrown toenails and infection.

Complications

  • Skin infection
  • If left untreated or undetected, an ingrown toenail can infect the underlying bone and lead to a serious bone infection.

Treatment

According to the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP, 2019), mild ingrown nails can be treated at home. Here are some suggestions:

  • Soak your foot in warm water for 15 to 20 minutes. Soaking reduces swelling and relieves tenderness.
  • Dry your foot, then place a twist of cotton under the corner of your nail. This will help the nail grow above the skin edge.
  • You can wet the cotton with water or a disinfectant. Put antibiotic ointment on the tender area and bandage the toe.
  • Change the cotton daily.
  • Try to wear open-toe shoes, such as sandals, that do not rub the toenail. This will help healing and remove chances of irritation.
  • 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.
  • Contact your health care provider if your ingrown toenail does not improve or gets worse, including increased pain, swelling and drainage.

If you need to see a health care provider, treatment may consist of:

  • Partially removing the nail.
  • Fully removing the nail and tissue. This is done if you repeatedly have the problem on the same toe.

If you are treating an ingrown nail at home and do not see improvement, don’t wait. If treated early, the outcome should be positive, but waiting could result in more severe illness.

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