The two most important things you can do to prevent an ingrown toenail are:
1. Cut your toenails straight across, not in a rounded shape. Cutting your toenails in a rounded shape or cutting them too close to your skin makes them more likely to grow downward into your skin as opposed to outward. If you’ve got thick nails, this may make cutting them more difficult, but it also makes it all the more important to pay attention when trimming your nails to do it right.
2. Don’t wear shoes that are too tight or too short, which can apply unnecessary pressure on the tips of your toe because they can also cause your toenails to dig into your skin. This can be a problem especially if you walk a lot or participate in sports.
If you already have an ingrown toenail, home care might prevent it from getting infected. Make sure to soak it in warm water mixed with some Epsom salts three or four times a day. I have a friend who gets ingrown toenails a lot, and her doctor told her to use Domeboro solution, an antibacterial soak, once a day when she does. It’s also important to keep your toenails clean and dry, and consider wearing sandals until the condition clears up. (Of course sandals should be avoided if you’re going to be taking a hike on rocky terrain, where you can easily stub your toe, or if you’re walking in New York City, where dirt and who knows what else from city streets can get on your feet.) It also will help to apply an antiseptic like hydrogen peroxide or an antibiotic ointment once a day after a bath or shower, which will help to keep an infection at bay.
If the toenail does get infected (is red, swollen and causes you excessive pain), it will require a doctor’s attention. Usually, a doctor will have to perform toenail surgery to remove the ingrown toenail.
Sometimes, despite your best efforts, you’ll get an ingrown toenail because of injury or trauma to the toe. If you stub your toe, for instance, it can cause the nail to be pushed into the skin, and an ingrown toenail will result. Also, some people are more prone to get ingrown toenails because their toenails naturally turn downward. If you happen to be one of those (lucky you!), you should take special care to make sure that you cut their nails properly and wear shoes that fit well.
It’s important to note that if you have diabetes or poor blood circulation, you should seek the help of a doctor even before an ingrown toenail gets infected. Any condition that prevents you from getting enough blood flow to your foot can make a relatively minor foot injury very serious very fast because of the high probability of infection due to improper healing. Even if you don’t have poor blood circulation, it’s important not to let an ingrown toenail go untreated for the same reason — an infection that isn’t dealt with can lead to a bone infection in your foot, which can be very serious.
Are ingrown toenails fun? No. Are they completely treatable? Absolutely. Just make sure to see a doc before it gets out of control. And if you’ve got an ingrown toenail, get it looked at soon — it’s almost flip-flop season!