What to Know About Ingrown Toenails in Babies and Children

Medically Reviewed by Dany Paul Baby, MD on April 11, 2022
4 min read

Ingrown toenails in babies and children are painful and common. The corner of a toenail, usually the great toe, gets stuck in the cuticle of the nail bed. Your child will complain of pain, irritation on the toe, and other symptoms of an ingrown toenail. Your baby's ingrown toenail treatment can often be done at home, using simple remedies. 

Ingrown toenail in kids is quite common. A corner of a toenail, usually on the great toe, buries into the nail cuticle instead of growing over it. This can happen because of tight or narrow-toed shoes. Some children have naturally curving toenails. Toenails peeled off at the edges and clipped at the sides are at risk for ingrowing. Toe injuries can also result in ingrown toenails. 

Excessive sweating and nail infections (mainly fungal) are other causes of ingrown toenails. Some children are born with ingrowing toenails (congenital onychocryptosis). Ingrown toenails run in some families.

If you take your child to a doctor, you may see onychocryptosis or unguis incarnatus on the chart. They're names for ingrown toenails.

You may notice your child limping or walking differently because of pain. When you look at the child’s feet, you'll notice swelling and redness around the corner of a toenail. The area is painful to touch, and your child may try to avoid footwear. The ingrown toenail can cause an infection with yellow fluid or pus draining from it. 

Ingrown toenails in kids are easy to recognize by looking at the toes. But if the condition goes on too long or happens again and again, you should have it seen by your doctor. They will want to make sure it isn't subungual exostosis or a tumor of the nail bed, two conditions that appear similar to ingrown toenails.

Children often avoid complaining about ingrown toenails, even when they're in pain. When you see the problem, try to reduce the swelling by soaking the foot in warm or room temperature water. Gently massage the side of the nail fold to try and free the nail edge. 

The pain will stop if you can find the toenail corner and help it out of the inflamed tissue. Use your fingernail rather than any instrument. This will allow the toe to heal on its own. Most ingrown toenails in kids can be treated at home. Only rarely will you need to visit a doctor for nail removal or other surgery.

If the toe around the ingrown toenail is infected and has pus oozing from it, apply an antibiotic ointment. Antibiotic ointments are available over-the-counter without a prescription. You can also give your child acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil or Motrin) to relieve the pain.

Warm soaks help in the treatment of ingrown toenails in babies and children. Soak the foot in warm water for 20 minutes twice a day. Massage the swollen part of the toe away from the nail. After soaking, dry the foot and toes well. 

An option is adding unscented Epsom salts to the water when soaking. Add 1 to 2 tablespoons to a quart (1.14 liters) of warm water and soak your child's foot in it. This helps reduce the swelling and pain, as well as in drawing the pus from the toe.

If you've been able to lift the buried toenail corner out, healing is rapid. Pus discharge should stop in 48 hours, your child should be pain-free in a week, and the toe should be completely healed in 2 weeks.

You should see your doctor if:

  • Your child has severe pain, and you can't lift the toenail corner out
  • There is spreading redness and swelling up the toe and foot
  • You can see areas of pus under the skin
  • Your child has a fever and is getting worse
  • The ingrown toenail is not relieved in 7 days

Ingrown toenails don't heal until the edge of the toenail is freed or removed. Once this is done, healing is rapid. Antibiotics taken by mouth don't help on their own. On the other hand, once the toenail is freed or removed, the infection is often cured without oral antibiotics.

Don't try to cut the nail corner with a scissors or clipper. Such home surgery carries a high risk of infection or tissue damage. If simple home remedies are not providing relief, let your doctor take care of it. 

Your doctor will numb your child's toe with a local anesthetic injection. Once the part is numb, your doctor will lift and cut the part of the toenail that is growing inwards. Sometimes, they may apply a chemical (phenol or sodium hydroxide) or electricity to prevent ingrowth. This procedure is called ablation. Follow your doctor's instructions about medicines and care after the surgery. 

Orthonyxia is a procedure for frequent ingrowing toenails. A small metal brace with hooks on both ends is used. Your doctor places the hooks around both ends of the nail and sticks it with adhesive.

Buy right-sized shoes. Narrow-toed shoes squeeze the toes and are likely to cause ingrown toenails. Children's feet grow fast. Make sure the shoes you bought a few months ago haven't become tight. Children's shoes should never be tight, narrow, or pointed.

Cut your baby's toenails straight across. Don't round the edges, and don't cut them too short. Children shouldn't tear their nails at the corners.

Your child's toenails are soft just after a bath. Bend the corners of the toenails upwards. 

Older children and teenagers should use clean, sharp toenail clippers. They're wider than fingernail clippers and made to cut almost straight across the nail. This reduces the likelihood of ingrown toenails.