What to Do About an Ingrown Toenail (and When to Call Us Instead)

Dec 23, 2019 | Uncategorized

An ingrown toenail can be a painful annoyance, but most times it’s far from an emergency. Still, that doesn’t mean you should ignore it. Not at all!

When an ingrown toenail strikes—and it’s reasonable to treat at home—the best time to start that treatment is as soon as possible. Not only will you help yourself find comfort a lot faster, but you significantly reduce your chances of complications such as an infection popping up to really ruin your day.

That said, before considering home treatment for an ingrown toenail, it’s important to assess whether it should be seen by us instead. There are cases where it is much more preferable and—more importantly—safer to leave the situation to a professional with more experience and much better tools.

Check your ingrown toenail for any of the following:

Signs You Should Call Us Regarding Your Ingrown Toenail

  • Your ingrown toenail hurts too much to handle yourself. If just a simple touch against your ingrown toenail is making you writhe in pain, you should not be trying to treat it yourself. We have the resources to make handling the toenail a lot less difficult. Severe pain is also a sign that a deeper problem may be present or developing.
  • Your ingrown toenail is showing signs of infection. In addition to severe pain as mentioned above, signs of an infection can include a consistent discharge of pus, a feeling of increased heat when touching the area, red streaks radiating outward from the sight of the problem, and fever. Not all symptoms need to be present for it to be worth calling us.
  • You have diabetes or another condition that affects your circulation or immune system. Certain conditions can interfere with your body’s abilities to heal and resist infection. These effects can be particularly devastating in the feet, so any kind of injury to them is well worth contacting us about. You want to ensure proper care is taken from the start.
  • Your ingrown toenails just keep coming back. An ingrown toenail on a rare occasion is usually nothing to worry about, but if you keep consistently having them, something likely needs to be addressed.
  • You have any other concerns about your ingrown toenail. If you are worried about anything that might be happening to your toe and want an expert opinion, please do not hesitate to contact us! No question is ever too small or unworthy of asking.

But let’s say none of the following situations apply. Then it is most likely perfectly fine to try addressing your ingrown toenail in the comfort of your own home. What should you do?

Home Treatment for an Ingrown Toenail

Treating a minor ingrown toenail is rather simple, but the ideal method is not an “instant fix.”

Never attempt to “dig out” an ingrown toenail or do anything that would involve cutting into the nail or the surrounding skin. These methods increase your risks of further pain, further injury, and receiving an infection.

Here is the recommended way to treat an ingrown toenail at home:

  • Soak your affected foot in a small bath or basin of warm water for 15-20 minutes. This will help reduce swelling and relieve tenderness. You may choose to add some Epsom salts if you wish, but stop soaking and replace the water if anything within it begins to cause you irritation.
  • After soaking, dry your foot and gently lift the side of the nail by sliding a piece of waxed dental floss or a small piece of cotton beneath it. This will help guide the nail away from the sensitive skin. If you are using floss, make sure it is enough to easily remove when you need to, without leaving pieces behind.
  • Apply some antibiotic ointment to the area, then protect with an adhesive bandage.

We recommend soaking your foot 3-4 times per day. After every soak, use fresh cotton/floss and a bandage to treat the toe.

If needed, an over-the-counter pain reliever such as acetaminophen (e.g. Tylenol), naproxen sodium (e.g. Aleve), or ibuprofen (e.g. Advil) may be considered to provide some relief. Please follow dosage instructions exactly and be careful of any potential side effects with other medications.

Additionally, keeping your affected foot out of constricting footwear will help provide your ingrown toenail better opportunities to heal. Go barefoot or wear open-toed footwear as often as you can during recovery. (Of course, we know this always isn’t feasible with the demands of work or the weather, but try to be as accommodating as possible.)

If your ingrown toenail does not improve after several days, it’s time to let us know. You may need more advanced treatment.

Don’t Wait on Ingrown Toenail Treatment

Sometimes people think an ingrown toenail—no matter what is going on with it—is not something worth a podiatrist’s time or attention. That is simply not true!

If your ingrown toenail is severe, infected, or just otherwise causing you more trouble than you know what to do with, we want to help. We can more easily take care of the problem here than at your home, and even provide permanent solutions for ingrown toenails that keep coming back no matter what.

Schedule an appointment with us by calling our Medford office at (541) 776-3338. We also accept appointment requests and questions via our online contact form.