If you’ve had an ingrown toenail before, you know how painful it can be.

An ingrown toenail is when your nail (typically the big toe) essentially starts growing into the skin beside your nail and causes pain and swelling. Some people can even get infections from ingrown toenails.

How can you handle this painful condition? Let’s talk about what the causes are as well as what treatments are available.

Causes of an Ingrown Toenail

tight shoes

There are many things that can cause an ingrown toenail. Typically, these are things you can control, such as:

  • Cutting your toenails the wrong way. This is what got me my first ingrown toenail—ouch! If you neglect to cut straight across your nail or just cut the edges, it can set you up for a painful ingrown toenail [1].
  • Wearing shoes or socks that are too tight. Tight shoes and socks can encourage the toenail to grow where it’s not supposed to.
  • Injury. Don’t kick a window when you’re angry (I promise, it’s not fun replacing it) or drop something on your poor toe. Accidents can and do happen, though. (I swear, that window thing was an accident…)

Unfortunately, there are also other causes of ingrown toenails that you can’t control or are difficult to control, such as:

  • The way your toes are shaped. If you have toenails that are strangely shaped with an unusual curve, you may be more prone to an ingrown toenail.
  • Genetics. Some people just have the right shaped toes for ingrown nails or these types of problems may run in your family.

What Types of Treatment Are Available?

Fortunately, ingrown toenails don’t present a serious threat for the majority of people. However, some people are at higher risk, such as people who have diabetes or poor circulation [2].

Here’s what your doctor might prescribe if you have an ingrown toenail and seek medical treatment:

  • Antibiotics. If your nail is infected, your doc might want you on these.
  • Surgery for partial or complete removal of your nail. This is generally for people who have recurring ingrown toenails and problems that result.

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Most people won’t need to seek medical care, but if you have any suspicions that you have an infection, it’s a good idea to follow up with your doctor as an untreated nail infection could grow into the bone and cause a bone infection, which is not something anyone really wants [3].

Signs or symptoms of an infected ingrown toenail include redness, swelling, the area surrounding the nail feeling hot or warm to the touch, bleeding, and pus. Always keep a suspected infected ingrown toenail clean and dry until you can see a doctor.

Home Remedies for Ingrown Toenails

If your ingrown toenail is fairly minor (some pain and no signs of infection), there are things you can do at home to help your body heal.

Epsom salt foot bath. A warm Epsom salt foot bath can help reduce pain and swelling [4]. Use ½ cup for a container that can hold both feet. If you’re taking a full-on bath, you can use up to 2 cups. Soak for 30 minutes and be sure to let your feet dry completely afterward.

Apple cider vinegar. You can add ¼ cup to your foot bath, or dilute it and apply directly to the nail. It won’t make an existing infection go away but it can prevent infection of your ingrown toenail.

Keep it comfortable. Don’t wear any tight shoes or socks that will aggravate the condition (yes, this includes footed tights).

Whatever you do, be sure to keep your foot clean. You can wash it twice a day with natural castile soap for best results.

Prevention

The best thing you can do to help prevent an ingrown toenail is to focus on the factors we discussed above that you can prevent. These include wearing comfortable shoes and socks that aren’t too tight. You should always aim to cut your toenail straight across, not in a curve, and definitely not too short. And for God’s sake, don’t kick that window.

What to Avoid

Do not cut a “V” in the center of the nail. Some people say this works. It does not.

Don’t keep trimming your nails. I know you’re trying to correct that mistake you made, but the truth is that nothing can change the past, and your constant trimming isn’t going to help anything now.

Don’t waste money on over-the-counter treatments. Not only do they not work, they can aggravate the existing condition.

Some people suggest putting cotton under the nail in an effort to help the nail grow in the right direction [5]. This might not work and can create a foundation for infection.

Having an ingrown toenail isn’t fun, but for the majority of people, it’ll go away on its own in time. If you’re in a lot of pain or suspect an infection, seek professional help as soon as you’re able. It’s never ok to ignore an infection.

If your nail is painful but there are no signs of infection, consider natural remedies to get your poor nail back on track. Good luck!

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Jenn Ryan
Health Expert
Jenn Ryan is a freelance writer and editor who's passionate about natural health, fitness, gluten-free, and animals. She loves running, reading, and playing with her four rescued rabbits.
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