It’s no fun to take your shoes off after a long day and get no relief because your toe—often your big toe—keeps hurting. You sit down to get a closer look. The skin bordering your nail bed is red, irritated and swollen. It’s painful and tender to the touch. You have an ingrown toenail, and if you’re like most people, the next 3-4 days will be filled with an arsenal of nail clippers, antibiotics, and Band-Aids.
Alex Turnipseed, a physician’s assistant at Cedars-Sinai Urgent Care, sees a few patients complaining of ingrown toenails per month. For some, the painful problem repeats itself frequently. He usually fixes the nail by using special tools to cut the ingrown part away.
“The good news is they very rarely lead to any serious infections or complications,” he says.
Here are some tips to speed recovery, prevent infection, and figure out when it’s time to make a trip to the doctor.
Treatment and Prevention
Ingrown toenails should be treated as soon as they are recognized. In many cases, people with uninfected ingrown toenails can obtain relief with the following simple regimen:
- Soak the feet in warm salt water
- Dry them thoroughly with a clean towel
- Apply a mild antiseptic solution to the area
- Bandage the toe
If excessive inflammation, swelling, pain or discharge is present, the toenail probably is infected and should be treated by a physician. A podiatrist can trim or remove the infected nail with a minor in-office surgical procedure. He or she can remove the offending portion of the nail or overgrown skin with a scalpel and treat the infection. Unless, the problem is congenital, the best way to prevent ingrown toenails is to protect the feet from trauma and wear shoes with adequate room for the toes.
Cutting toe nails properly goes a long way toward the prevention of ingrown toenails. Using a safety nail clipper, cut the nails straight across, so that the nail corner is visible. If you cut the nail too short, you are inviting the nail corner to grow into the skin. It is the natural tendency, when the edge of the nail starts to grow in, to cut down at an angle at the nail edge, to relieve the pain. This does relieve the pain temporarily, but it also can start a downward spiral, training the nail to become more and more ingrown.