Ingrown Toenail, Not Infected (Home Treatment)

An ingrown toenail occurs when the nail grows sideways into the skin next to the nail. This can cause pain, especially when wearing tight shoes. It can also lead to an infection with redness, swelling, and pus drainage. Most people respond to the treatments described here. But sometimes surgery is needed. The big toe is most often affected. 

The most common cause of an ingrown toenail is trimming your nails wrong. Most people trim the nails too close to the skin and try to round the nail too tightly around the shape of the toe. When you do this, the nail can grow into the skin of your toe. It is safer to trim the nail ending in a straight line rather than a curve.

Home care

These guidelines will help you care for your toenail at home:

  • Soak the painful toe in warm water 3 to 4 times each day, for 10 to 20 minutes each time. Adding Epsom salt may be advised by your healthcare provider. Wash the entire foot with an antibacterial soap. Then keep it dry.

  • If there is redness or swelling around the toenail, apply an antibiotic ointment 3 times a day.

  • Put a small piece of rolled-up cotton under the corner of the nail. This helps the nail to grow outward, away from the cuticle.

  • Wear shoes that don’t put pressure on the toes, such as a sandal or open shoe. Closed shoes should be big enough in the toes so that there is no pressure on the painful toe.

  • You may use acetaminophen or ibuprofen for pain, unless another pain medicine was prescribed. Talk with your healthcare provider before using these medicines if you have chronic liver or kidney disease or if you have ever had a stomach ulcer or digestive bleeding.

Prevention

The following tips will help you prevent ingrown toenails:

  • Don't wear pointed, tight, or narrow shoes.

  • Trim toenails once a month so they don’t grow too long. Cut the nail straight across.

Follow-up care

Follow up with your healthcare provider, or as advised.

When to seek medical advice

Call your healthcare provider right away if any of these occur:

  • Increasing redness, pain, or swelling of the toe

  • Tender red streaks in the skin leading toward the ankle

  • Pus or fluid drainage from the toe

  • Fever of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher, or as directed by your provider

  • The area does not heal with home treatment

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