Diagnosis

Your doctor can diagnose an ingrown toenail based on your symptoms and a physical examination of your nail and the surrounding skin.

Treatment

If home remedies haven't helped your ingrown toenail, your doctor may recommend:

  • Lifting the nail. For a slightly ingrown nail (redness and pain but no pus), your doctor may carefully lift the ingrowing nail edge and place cotton, dental floss or a splint under it. This separates the nail from the overlying skin and helps the nail grow above the skin edge. At home, you'll need to soak the toe and replace the material daily.
  • Partially removing the nail. For a more severe ingrown toenail (redness, pain and pus), your doctor may trim or remove the ingrown portion of the nail. Before this procedure, your doctor may temporarily numb your toe by injecting it with an anesthetic.
  • Removing the nail and tissue. If you have the problem repeatedly on the same toe, your doctor may suggest removing a portion of the nail along with the underlying tissue (nail bed). This procedure may prevent that part of your nail from growing back. Your doctor will use a chemical, a laser or other methods.

Your doctor may also recommend using topical or oral antibiotics, especially if the toe is infected or at risk of becoming infected.

Lifestyle and home remedies

You can treat most ingrown toenails at home. Here's how:

  • Soak your feet in warm water. Do this for 15 to 20 minutes three to four times a day. Soaking reduces swelling and relieves tenderness.
  • Place cotton or dental floss under your toenail. After each soaking, put fresh bits of cotton or waxed dental floss under the ingrown edge. This will help the nail grow above the skin edge.
  • Apply antibiotic cream. Put antibiotic ointment on the tender area and bandage the toe.
  • Choose sensible footwear. Consider wearing open-toed shoes or sandals until your toe feels better.
  • Take pain relievers. Over-the-counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen (Tylenol, others), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others) and naproxen sodium (Aleve) may help ease the toe pain.

Preparing for your appointment

Your family doctor or a foot doctor (podiatrist) can diagnose an ingrown toenail. Prepare a list of questions to ask your doctor during your appointment. Some basic questions include:

  • Is my condition temporary or long term (chronic)?
  • What are my treatment options and the pros and cons of each?
  • What results can I expect?
  • Can I wait to see if the condition goes away on its own?
  • What nail care routine do you recommend while my toe heals?

Your doctor is likely to ask you questions such as:

  • When did you begin experiencing symptoms?
  • Do you have the symptoms all the time?
  • What at-home treatments have you used?
  • Do you have diabetes or another condition that causes poor blood flow to your legs or feet?