When she walked into the living room, Billy was sitting on the couch. His sock and shoe lay on the floor. He was staring closely at his big toe. Then he looked up at his mother and said “I think I have an ingrown toenail. Its been hurting since last week, but I didn’t want you to take me to the doctor. I was hoping it would just go away.”
Ingrown toenails can be painful. But the thought of going to the doctor seems to bother some kids even more. Mix a teenager’s emerging independence with a little fear of doctor’s offices, and its no wonder they wait to ask for help.
There are many home remedies for ingrown toenails. Some work and some don’t. Some are even the same as those a pediatrician would recommend. Once you understand the causes and various home treatments for ingrown toenail, you can decide for yourself which might be best.
An ingrown toenail begins when any part of the toenail gets caught in the skin around the nail. The skin then becomes irritated and inflamed. If the piece of nail is sharp, the skin can actually become punctured or cut by the jagged corner of the nail. If the toenail punctures the skin causing an open wound, bacteria and infection can develop. The toe becomes red, swollen and very painful.
The most common home remedy for ingrown toenails is to soak the foot in warm Epsom salts. Soaking the foot this way can soften the skin around the nail. This can make the area less inflamed and less painful. In some cases it can be enough to make let the ingrown piece of nail become free.
Some people think that Epsom salt soaks can cure an ingrown toenail. It is true that a high concentration of Epsom salts can kill bacteria that cause infection. However, Epsom salts can also kill the fibroblast cells that heal wounds. If there is an open wound or an infection, Epsom salt soaks can prolong healing.
Petroleum jelly applied to an ingrown nail is another common home treatment. Patients have said they think Vaseline will soften the nail and let it slide out of the ingrown nail fold. While Vaseline will soften the skin, it also traps a great deal of moisture. This can cause the skin to become too moist and break down. If the skin breaks down, you have a much higher chance of bacteria getting in and causing an infected ingrown toenail.
Another common home remedy is to stuff cotton under the corner of the nail. The idea is that you might be able to hold the nail up away from the skin long enough to let it calm down. But this usually back-fires. The cotton actually creates more pressure on the skin under the toenail. Cotton also holds in moisture that can encourage an infection.
Another myth about ingrown toenails is that you can cut a V-shaped piece of nail out of the center of the toenail. The idea is that the gap you cut in the middle will slowly move together, pulling the corners of the nail in to free the ingrown nail at the side of the toe. Unfortunately, this is impossible. The nail plate itself is very rigid and fixed in placed by little grooves that prevent this from happening. Cutting a “V” in the nail won’t help.
Some people can actually free the ingrown nail, just by cutting out the piece of toenail that is caught in the skin. Podiatrists typically warn against trying to do this yourself at home because it can make it worse, but sometimes it will fix the ingrown toenail. But you must be very careful to remove ALL of the corner of the nail that is stuck.
Frequently people will try to remove the nail and only get part of it. They get some relief, just because there is less pressure down in the nail groove. However, the piece that is left behind is a sharp little sliver called a spicule.
So the toe feels better for a few weeks, but the spicule is getting longer, as the nail grows out. If you then trip over a curb or bump the toe against a table leg. And whammo… that little spicule pokes right into the skin in the corner of the nail fold. The ingrown toenail returns with a vengeance.
Massaging the nail plate after you shower or bathe may be the safest way to try to work the ingrown toenail free. Just don’t keep trying if it is painful. You should also stop if there is any drainage. Drainage can mean infection.
The biggest risk with an ingrown toenail is that it will become infected. And any infection toenail needs medical attention. Ingrown toenail infections occur more in people with diabetes. Infections are also common in ingrown toenails that have been getting worse for several days. One misconception is that you can simply cure an ingrown toenail by taking antibiotic pills. The simple truth is that you need to remove the irritating piece of nail and cure the infection as well.
One of the best kept secret home remedies is a podiatry house call. A podiatrist is a foot doctor and a true toenail expert. They are experts trained to heal ingrown toenails with the least discomfort. Many podiatrists offer home visits to treat toenail problems. That way, neither Mom nor little Billy has to worry about going to the doctor’s office.