A Complete Guide to Ingrown Toenails

by | Apr 20, 2023

Ingrown toenails happen when the edges of your nails grow into the soft tissue around your nail beds. While an ingrown toenail can happen to any toe, it usually involves the big toe. The problem occurs when the big toe is pressed against the next toe or due to some trauma to the toenail, causing the nail to bend and force itself into the skin.

The condition isn’t painful at first. Many people don’t realize they have an ingrown nail until it begins to cause problems. If left untreated, ingrown nails lead to infection and permanent damage, requiring surgery for correction.

What are the Symptoms of Ingrown Toenails?

The symptoms of an ingrown toenail vary from one person to another. However, some of the common signs you should watch out for include the following:

  • Pain and tenderness in your toe along one or both sides of the nail. Ingrown toenails cause pain and tenderness in the affected toe. The pain can be mild or severe and make it challenging to wear shoes or walk comfortably. The affected toe may also feel tender to the touch, and the skin around it may be inflamed and irritated.
  • Redness around your toenail. Ingrown toenails can cause redness and inflammation around the affected nail. The skin appears swollen and may feel warm when touched.
  • Swelling. Ingrown toenails cause swelling of the affected toe. The swelling makes it more challenging to trim the nail properly. Or remove the ingrown portion of the nail without causing further damage.
  • Infection of the tissue around the nail. In some cases, ingrown toenails lead to an infection of the tissue around the nail. Infections can cause additional symptoms such as pus or drainage from the affected area, a foul odor, and a fever.

What Can I Do to Prevent Ingrown Toenails?

There are several steps that you can take to prevent ingrown toenails from occurring.

1. Trim Nails Straight Across

The first step is to trim your nails straight across with a clipper or file. Doing this reduces the chance of the nail growing into the skin.

2. Keep Toenails at a Moderate Length

Ingrown toenails occur when there is excess growth on the sides of your nails. This makes it more likely to catch onto something and get stuck underneath your skin. Therefore, try keeping your toenails at a moderate length, so they don’t grow too long or curl under too much.

3. Wear Shoes that Fit Properly

Wearing comfortable, supportive shoes with a wide toe box gives room for your toes to move freely and spread out. If you have narrow feet or bunions, look for shoes with a wider toe box and a wider heel. This will give your toes more room to move without rubbing against the sides or front of the shoe.

4. Wear Protective Footwear

If you need to walk in rocky areas or on ground with sharp objects, you should wear an athletic shoe with cushioning and protection around the toe area. This will help prevent cuts and bruises from the existing ingrown toenails. Try to wear socks on top of any bandages or padding. This will prevent them from getting caught on anything while walking in public with unprotected feet.

If you want to or are required to wear steel-toe footwear, make sure that there is enough room in the toe box that your toes do not rub against the front of the shoe, which could cause ingrown toenails.

5. Check Your Feet Regularly

Ingrown toenails start as minor cuts in the side of the nail bed that can become infected with bacteria. If left untreated, an infection can spread into the surrounding tissue, causing pain and swelling in the toe.

Therefore, consider examining your feet daily for any cuts or irregularities in the skin around your nails. If you notice anything unusual, see our doctors as soon as possible for them to evaluate the injury and get you the treatment you need before it gets worse.

Soaking feet in water and Epsom salt to treat ingrown toenails

Home Remedies for Mild Ingrown Toenails

If you have an ingrown toenail in the early stages, you might choose to try these home remedies. However, if you notice any pain or signs of infection, you need to be evaluated by a medical professional.

1. Soak Feet in Warm Water and Epsom Salts

Soaking the feet in warm water is a simple and effective home remedy for toe pain. It helps to relieve symptoms and promote healing by reducing inflammation and softening the skin around the nail.

To use this home remedy, fill your basin with warm water. Next, add Epsom salts which will help fight infection and inflammation.

Soak your feet for 15-20 minutes (2 to 3 times a day). After soaking, dry your feet and apply a clean bandage to the affected toe, if necessary. However, if your symptoms do not improve, seek medical attention.

2. Apply Antibiotic Cream

Applying antibiotic cream helps reduce inflammation and prevent infection from developing. However, if you’re allergic to any ingredient it is made of, consider looking for other options.

3. Choose Sensible Footwear

Choose shoes with soft leather uppers and low heels that fit well and do not rub against your toes when you walk. Avoid wearing shoes with thick seams that bend around the toe box or have high heels that force you to stand on tiptoe all day long. These will strain the muscles in your feet and ankles, putting more stress on them.

4. Take Pain Relievers

Taking over-the-counter pain relievers may help relieve some symptoms caused by an ingrown toenail. Ibuprofen (Advil) or acetaminophen (Tylenol) may be effective at reducing swelling and inflammation.

These medications work by blocking the production of prostaglandins responsible for pain and inflammation. And it is vital to follow the recommended dosages.

However, they do not treat actual infections. Talk with our doctors about taking medication for pain relief if needed.

What are the Treatment Options for Ingrown Toenails?

There are three main treatment options for ingrown toenails, all of which can be done right in our office. The procedure that is best for you is based on an assessment of your condition by our doctors and any other health problems you have (for example, diabetes).

Lifting the Nail

This is the simplest and most common procedure. It involves using a small surgical needle to lift the edge of the nail above the skin surface.

The procedure takes about 10-15 minutes, and it is very effective at relieving pain and preventing further problems. However, it doesn’t permanently treat the problem, and you may need more than one session.

Partial Removal of the Nail

In some cases, it’s necessary to remove part of your toenail to fully treat an ingrown toenail. This involves removing part of your toenail under your skin (partial nail avulsion). Or cutting back the side of your nail that has folded under (partial matrix ectomy).

Removing the Nail and Tissue

Our doctors will cut away the nail, dead skin, and any infected tissue. The wound may be dressed with a bandage or gauze pad. The doctor will most likely prescribe antibiotics to prevent infection of the incision site.

Contact Us Today for Help With Ingrown Toenails

Ingrown toenails are painful and uncomfortable conditions that can affect anyone. It is vital to seek medical attention from a qualified podiatrist to diagnose and treat the condition. Fortunately, Southern California Foot and Ankle Specialists offer comprehensive foot and ankle care services for you, including toe pain treatment. 

In addition to treating toe and nail pain, we offer other services such as clubfoot treatment, ankle arthroscopy, treatments for sports-related injuries, and much more. We’re a dedicated staff providing high-quality care for all foot and ankle needs. This ensures patients receive a comprehensive diagnosis and treatment plan that is well understood.

If you are experiencing an ingrown toenail or any other foot and ankle condition, we can help. Contact us to request an appointment to receive expert care and get back to your active lifestyle.