Ingrown toenails are uncomfortable to live with and can be difficult to treat. There are a number of at-home treatments, though, including soaking the ingrown toenail in an Epsom salt bath, which you can try before seeking treatment from a healthcare provider.
Ingrown Toenail Definition
What is an ingrown toenail? Ingrown toenails, a condition also known as onychocryptosis, occur when the edge of a toenail cuts into the tissue surrounding it or when the skin around a toe grows over the bed of the toenail. Once your toenail breaks the skin, bacteria starts to form, the area will start to swell, and you could develop a serious fungal infection. If it goes untreated, an ingrown toenail could result in serious health problems.
Symptoms of Ingrown Toenails
Infected toenails have a fairly unique set of symptoms. In many cases, it should be easy to tell that you have an ingrown toenail because you’ll have some combination of the following symptoms:
- Pain when you apply pressure on your toe
- Hard, tender, or swollen skin right next to the nail
- Skin that has grown over a part of your toenail
- A blister full of pus or a lot of drainage coming out of your toe
- Thick, cracked, yellowed toenails that suggest a fungal infection
Causes of Ingrown Toenails
There are a number of ways your toenail can get infected. Causes of ingrown toenails include:
- Cutting a toenail too short or leaving it too long
- Receiving a toenail injury
- Having a genetic predisposition for curved toenails
- Wearing footwear that is too narrow, too tight, or puts too much pressure on your toes
- Cutting your toenail at an angle on the sides instead of straight across
- Taking part in activities like soccer, skiing, or dancing
- Not keeping your toes dry and clean
- Inheriting the tendency for ingrown toenails from one or both of your parents
- Getting pedicures from nail technicians that overcut your toenail
Pretty much anyone can get ingrown toenails, but some groups are more susceptible than others. If you have diabetes or another condition that causes circulation issues, you may experience ingrown toenails more often than normal. If this is the case, you should check your toes often and see a podiatrist regularly – poor blood flow can prevent toenail infections from healing quickly.
Epsom Salt for Ingrown Toenails
One of the most common self-treatments for ingrown toenails involves Epsom salt. How does Epsom salt help an ingrown toenail? As long as there’s no discharge, pus or other sign of infection on your toe, you can create a warm water and Epsom salt bath for your foot. You can soak it for 20 minutes a few times a day, these baths paired with a soft massage near the infected area to reduce inflammation and improve circulation.
After you soak your foot, dry it thoroughly and use an antibacterial cream on the toe.
Other Methods for Treating Ingrown Toenails at Home
There are plenty of other ways to help your ingrown toenail heal at home. Consider the following remedies:
- Wear open-toed shoes whenever possible. If you have to wear close-toed shoes, choose a pair that gives your toes room to move freely.
- Pull skin away from your ingrown toenail very carefully. With a small, blunt nail file or similar instrument, gently lift the skin away from your nail.
- Apply antibiotic ointment on the infected toe.
- Use over-the-counter medication to reduce pain. Ibuprofen or acetaminophen can help relieve short-term pain.
- Apply an antifungal cream if you’re suspicious that you have a fungal infection. These can be purchased over the counter or prescribed by your healthcare provider.
Preventing Ingrown Toenails
If you find that you’re constantly battling ingrown toenails, take precautions to prevent them. You can try any of the following:
- Don’t cut your nails too short or too unevenly.
- Ensure your shoes and socks fit correctly; if you can’t wiggle your toes around, they’re too tight.
- Protect your toes from trauma that comes from playing sports or other activities that are hard on your feet.
- Keep your toes dry and clean.
- Use toenail clippers, not fingernail clippers, and if you have thick toenails, try toenail nippers, a spring-loaded tool for cutting toenails.
Seeing a Healthcare Provider for Ingrown Toenails
If your ingrown toenail hasn’t healed after a week or so of home care, visit a podiatrist or other healthcare provider specializing in foot care. They may prescribe you oral antibiotics and may need to take part of the nail out of your toe.
If your ingrown toenails keep coming back, you may need to undergo a procedure. A common ingrown toenail procedure is a partial nail avulsion. This occurs when a thin vertical piece of nail on the ingrown side is sliced from the edge to the base of the nail and removed. Your healthcare provider might also put phenol, a chemical that discourages nail growth, on the empty area where the cuticle is.
Visit your healthcare provider if you:
- Notice swelling, redness, or drainage
- Think you have a fungal infection and over-the-counter ointments aren’t working
- Are diabetic and have an ingrown toenail
- Can’t get rid of symptoms, see the symptoms worsen, or find that symptoms keep returning
If you come down with a fever and have red, streaky skin near the toe, see your healthcare provider immediately.