- Ingrown toenails can be caused by wearing ill-fitting shoes and too long or too short nails.
- If an ingrown nail isn’t treated, it could cause an infection and grow into the surrounding tissue.
- To treat an ingrown nail, soak it in warm water with Epsom salt and use an antibiotic ointment.
- Visit Insider’s Health Reference library for more advice.
Anyone who’s experienced ingrown toenails, knows that they can be painful.
According to Yale Medicine dermatologist Amanda Zubek, MD, ingrown toenails are common, and most often affect older adolescents, teenagers, and pregnant women. They also typically happen in the big toe.
Common causes of ingrown toenails:
- The toenail is too long for the nailbed
- Trauma to the nail (i.e. stubbing your toe or dropping something on it)
- Wearing shoes that are too tight
- Cutting the nail too short
- Fungal nail infections
Here’s what you need to know about treating an ingrown toenail at home and when to see a doctor.
Will an ingrown toenail heal itself?
“An ingrown nail does not typically go away on its own,” says Neufeld. “It will continue to grow into the surrounding skin and soft tissues unless treated.”
If an ingrown toenail is left untreated, it can become infected, resulting in the possible need for surgery, removal of the nail, and/or medications to treat the infection, says Steven Neufeld, MD, a foot and ankle surgeon at The Centers for Advanced Orthopaedics
According to Leann Poston, MD, a licensed physician with Invigor Medical, an infection can spread to the surrounding tissue, into the bloodstream, or even to the bone when left untreated, which could lead to more serious complications including foot ulcers, bone infections, and reduced circulation in the affected area.
Signs of an infection:
Increased pain in the area around the toenail
Swelling in the affected area
Pus draining from the skin around the ingrown nail
How do you treat an ingrown toenail?
The treatment for your ingrown toenail will depend on the severity, as well as whether or not it’s infected. If the ingrown toenail is not infected, there are some things you can do at home to remedy it.
Epsom salt baths may feel great but the unique health benefits are questionable, according to medical experts
As soon as you notice an ingrown toenail, Zubek recommends soaking the foot in warm water with soap or Epsom salts for 15 minutes several times per day.
“You can gently pull the skin away from the ingrown nail during the soaking. You may also apply a topical steroid cream afterward to reduce inflammation,” says Zubek.
Poston advises drying the foot thoroughly and keeping it clean. In order to prevent an infection, she suggests applying antibiotic ointment to the nail and surrounding skin.
Important: If you’re immunocompromised, have poor circulation, or have diabetes, it’s advisable to see your doctor or podiatrist about treating the ingrown toenail. You may have a higher risk of infection that can lead to more severe skin or bone conditions, such as cellulitis or osteomyelitis.
“Once the swelling begins to decrease, gently lift the corner of the nail and insert some cotton or waxed dental floss between the nail and your skin to prevent the nail from going back into the skin,” says Poston.
According to Zubek, a podiatrist may apply a special splint or brace to the nail, or tape the skin to pull it away from the ingrown nail edge.
Poston also recommends taking ibuprofen or acetaminophen to manage the pain. Just make sure that any additional medication you add doesn’t negatively interact with other medications you’re taking.
If the ingrown toenail does not improve after several days of at-home treatment, if symptoms worsen, or if you notice it’s draining pus, Neufeld advises seeing your physician as soon as possible.
If the toenail is infected, they may remove part of the nail and prescribe oral antibiotics. In some cases where the ingrown nail is severely inflamed and producing pus, Poston says they may recommend a procedure to remove part of the nail or nailbed, which can also help to keep it from recurring.
If ingrown toenails become a recurring issue for you, experts say your nail clipping technique may be the issue.
“Make sure to cut your toenails straight across, not angled down or rounded at the corners,” says Zubek. “And wear shoes that are not too tight around the toes.”
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