The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine

Help! I’m Being Attacked By My Ingrown Toenail!

Posted by on Wednesday, February 29th, 2012


Your big toe hurts. More specifically your big toe’s toenail hurts. Hmm, better take a look down there–AAUGH!! What’s that? My toenail looks like it’s shrinking and sinking under the skin of my toe! Is my toe attacking my toenail?! Toenail! Toenail! Can you hear me? What’s happening? TOENAIL!!!!

Chances are pretty good that your toenail is not going to answer you, so I’m going to have to be the one to break the news: it sounds like you have an ingrown toenail.

An ingrown toenail happens when your toenail begins to curve under and grow into your skin. Now what on earth would possess your toenail to do a crazy thing like that and what should you do about it?

Causes Sometimes an ingrown toenail is just the result of an unlucky spin of the genetic roulette wheel: your toenail may simply be too big for your toe, and thus will begin to curl in on itself as it outgrows the space allotted to it. That’s the odd cause, though–an ingrown toenail is much more likely to come from wearing shoes that are too tight or from an injury like stubbing your toe or having it stepped on. Ingrown toenails can also come from improper toenail care, such as trimming them too short, or shaping them into too much of a curve along the sides. An ingrown toenail can occur on any toe, but it most often happens to the big toe.

Symptoms It hurts! Okay, that was easy. Other symptoms include redness and swelling around the nail (see, your toe isn’t really being attacked by your nail; the swelling of the tissue around the nail just makes it look like the nail is sinking under it). If an infection develops, you may see some pus oozing around the edge of your nails.

What Should I Do About My Monstrous Ingrown Toenail? Well, the best thing you can do is catch it early so you can treat it yourself. Take these steps to start:

  • Reduce the swelling by soaking your foot in warm water for about 15-20 minutes, three to four times a day (if you were thinking about taking a vacation to an area with a nice hot spring, now’s the time). Make sure you dry your feet thoroughly after each soaking; you don’t want to give yourself athlete’s foot on the way to curing an ingrown toenail!
  • While your toe and nail are softened up from soaking, slide a bit of cotton or dental floss under the side of the nail, where it’s curving down. The idea is to try to force the nail to start to grow back in the right direction again. Make sure you change the cotton or other material each day (don’t soak your feet with the cotton under your nail). Do this until you see the swelling start to go down.
  • Apply an over the counter antibiotic to the area around your nail to help prevent an infection.
  • Take ibuprofen or acetaminophen for pain relief.
  • Wear shoes with plenty of toe room. If you can wear open toe shoes or sandals, that will help (note to self: never get an ingrown toenail during the winter).

Extreme Measures If your toe becomes infected, you should see a doctor so the infection can be treated before it becomes serious. If your nail isn’t getting better with your at-home treatment, you should also see a doctor, as surgery may be the only cure. A doctor can remove part of the toenail to keep the nail from growing down again; some people may need the whole nail removed.  The procedure isn’t that bad (some dare say it’s even enjoyable).

Don’t Let This Happen Again This is easy–just look at the causes. Wear shoes and socks that give your toes room and allow them to move and rest in natural positions. Don’t trim your nails too short and trim them straight across, not in a curve.

Toenails may seem like a minor thing, but toenail conditions can be very serious. Keep an eye on them to make sure they’re healthy and happy. You want happy toenails, don’t you?

If you have any pain in your big toes, don’t hesitate to contact us at The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine. Dr. Josef J. GeldwertDr. Katherine Lai, and Dr. Ryan Minara have helped thousands of people get back on their feet.





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If you have any foot problems or pain, contact The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports MedicineDr. Josef J. GeldwertDr. Katherine Lai, Dr. Ryan Minara and Dr. Mariola Rivera have helped thousands of people get back on their feet. Unfortunately, we cannot give diagnoses or treatment advice online. Please make an appointment to see us if you live in the NY metropolitan area or seek out a podiatrist in your area.