Can I Get Rid of My Ingrown Toenail at Home?

by | Apr 3, 2020

If you’re like most people, all things considered, you’d generally prefer to take care of minor bumps, bruises, and other medical issues on your own when possible. Hey, we get it! We don’t take it personally. Especially not at a time when we’ve all been encouraged to stay home as much as possible.

Ingrown toenails, however, aren’t quite like simple cuts or bruises. That doesn’t mean that ingrown toenails can’t be treated at home. But you do have to be a lot more careful. An ingrown toenail that isn’t managed properly can get infected, greatly increasing the danger to your health—not to mention your discomfort!

In this blog post, we’ll look a little more closely at who can treat an ingrown toenail at home, who shouldn’t do so, and how you might go about taking those next steps.

So, Can I Treat My Ingrown Toenails at Home?

It’s actually easier to answer this question in reverse. Let’s start by talking about when you should definitely not treat your ingrown toenails at home.

Don’t bother with home care if:

  • You have diabetes. In this case, the risk of infection—and the damage that an unchecked infection can do—is just too great to mess around with DIY solutions. Diabetes inhibits your body’s ability to heal wounds, fight infections, and often even just notice that an injury has taken place. That “simple” ingrown toenail thus poses a much greater risk of severe complications, up to and including bone infections and amputation.
  • You have any other condition that affects circulation, immune function, or peripheral nerve function. The exact same rationale applies here as it does for diabetes.
  • You notice any signs of infection. Infections are serious business for anyone, regardless of your health status otherwise. Common signs of infection include redness and red streaks, swollen or inflamed skin, or pus under the nail.
  • Your pain is lingering or getting worse. The longer you let this go, the more miserable you’ll be, the tougher it’ll be to reverse course on your own, and the greater your risk of developing infection. If pain is severe and really starting to limit your activities, it’s time to admit defeat and hit the “easy button.”
  • You get ingrown toenails all the time. Almost everyone gets one or two ingrown toenails in a lifetime, just through bad luck. But if they’re a constant source of pain and frustration in your life, we need to take a closer look at exactly why this might be happening so we can stop it from continuing.

So once you make all those exclusions, what are you left with? Basically, if you are:

  • Healthy (i.e., no pre-existing health conditions affecting your circulation or immune system)
  • Not ordinarily prone to getting ingrown toenails
  • Your pain is mild (i.e., not significantly affecting your day-to-day activities)
  • You have no signs of infection

… then yes, you probably can consider managing your ingrown toenails at home, if you wish.

However, there’s no reason you have to! Even when home care is possible, it still may not be the right choice for you. Since even successful home care requires several days of maintenance and continued symptoms, while professional care offers much more immediate relief and resolution, simply getting your ingrown toenail fixed and over with is still the preferred way to go for most people.

And yes, before you ask, since ingrown toenails can be and often are a true emergency, we are definitely still treating these issues in our office during this time of COVID-19 uncertainty.

How Do I Treat My Ingrown Toenails at Home?

So let’s say you’ve determined that you want to try to see if you can handle your ingrown toenails at home, and it’s relatively safe for you to try. What’s next?

Really, there’s nothing fancy to it.

  • Give yourself a nice foot soak for about 15 minutes at a time, at least twice and ideally 3-4 times per day. Use warm, but not hot, water. Adding a little unscented Epsom salt (1-2 Tbsp per quart of water) is recommended but not mandatory. Doing this should help you relieve a lot of pain, inflammation, and pressure.
  • After your soak, dry your feet carefully but thoroughly.
  • Gently massage the skin away from the ingrown toenail. You can place a fresh piece of waxed dental floss under the edge of the ingrown nail as a sort of “splint” to encourage the nail to avoid snagging into the skin. Make sure you replace the floss with a fresh piece after every soak!
  • Apply an antibiotic cream to the tender skin to reduce infection risk, then loosely bandage the toe.
  • Avoid wearing shoes that press on or irritate the toe. Roomy toe boxes are good; sandals or shoeless is even better, provided you’re in an environment where it’s safe to go that route.
  • Keep your toenail trimmed normally as you would otherwise—short but not too short, and not too rounded in the corners.

That’s pretty much it. Any other bit of advice you might have heard, or alternative strategies you might want to try, are definitely not recommended. They’ll either be ineffective or counterproductive.

And please, never ever try to dig or cut out an ingrown toenail on your own. It’ll shoot your infection risk through the roof, and probably end up causing a lot more pain, too.

One more thing: it’s implied by the section above, but if at any point during your home treatment program you notice the pain getting worse or warning signs of infection, abort mission! This means it’s time to get serious.

Fast, Simple Solutions for Ingrown Toenails

Don’t be discouraged if your home care attempts fail! The truth is that professional treatment really is the most recommended option for everyone, regardless of situation. While we want to make sure the determined DIYers have good information, the truth is that eliminating ingrown toenails is just plain easier, safer, and more convenient if you come in and see us.

Depending on the severity of your ingrown toenail, how many times you’ve had it, and other factors, we’ll recommend a treatment approach. For mild ingrown toenails, this might include gently lifting and cutting back the ingrown toenail. For more severe or recurring ingrown toenails, we may instead recommend removing the entire ingrown edge of the nail and corresponding nail matrix so it can’t grow back again.

Regardless of the procedure or procedures chosen, everything will be performed using local anesthesia so you won’t feel any discomfort. The pain relief afterward will be immense. And you’ll be able to walk, drive, and do most or all of your normal activities right away.

(And it goes without saying that, of course, we are taking every possible precaution to keep our office safe for patients during the COVID-19 outbreak.)

So there’s really no reason to hold back on calling us! If it isn’t safe for you to start or continue your home treatment, or you just don’t want to take the risk or deal with the extended hassle, give our office a call today at (814) 472-2660. In just one appointment, we can have you feeling about a million times better.