Most people, when given the option, usually prefer to avoid a trip to the doctor’s office if they think they can deal with an illness or injury at home, on their own. That’s especially true right now, given that we’ve all been asked to minimize contact with people outside our household in order to flatten the curve of COVID-19.
Yet there are times when seeing a specialist really is the best—or only—choice. The trick is knowing when to make the call.
Ingrown toenails are a great example of one of those tricky cases. While mild ones often can be managed at home by those who are healthy enough to do so, they can also lead to serious infections if they aren’t dealt with quickly and properly.
In this blog post, we’ll talk a little bit about how to make that decision, what home care looks like, and what professional care looks like. Let’s start with the big question.
Can I Even Treat My Ingrown Toenails at Home?
In general, people who are in good overall health may attempt to care for their ingrown toenails at home as their initial treatment option—as long as the pain is not severe and there are no signs of infection.
To be clear, we don’t necessarily recommend this, as professional care tends to be faster and safer for all people regardless of health status. But if you are going to try going down the “home care” route, we want to make sure you do so as safely as possible.
Perhaps more importantly, we need to highlight the situations where you should not attempt home care (or abandon it) and seek our help as soon as possible:
- You have diabetes. Please DO NOT even attempt home care. Call us immediately for further instructions. We don’t want you to risk getting a serious, dangerous infection.
- You have neuropathy, peripheral artery disease, or any other condition that impairs nerve health or circulation. For the same reason as above, please do NOT attempt home care and call us immediately.
- Your ingrown toenails are severely painful. In addition to being a possible sign of infection, pain that affects your day-to-day life just isn’t something you should put up with when immediate relief is available.
- You notice other signs of infection. This can include things like red streaks, “radiating” pain, swelling, or drainage of pus.
- You keep getting ingrown toenails. Recurrent ingrown toenails is usually a sign of an underlying problem that needs to be addressed. We can help you figure out what that is and properly deal with it.
If you check any of the above boxes, discontinue home care and call us. It means that either the ingrown toenail is too risky for your overall health to manage independently and/or is unlikely to improve without our help.
How Do I Treat an Ingrown Toenail at Home?
If you’ve determined that home care is an appropriate first step, you’ll be pleased to hear that our recommended approach is very simple:
- Soak your feet in lukewarm water with some Epsom salt, or a basin of soapy water. Do this three times per day for around 15 minutes at a time.
- After your soak, attempt to gently massage the folds of skin away from the nail.
- Apply an antibiotic or antiseptic cream around the nail and surrounding skin.
- Loosely bandage the toe. (You’ll need to apply a fresh bandage after each soak.)
- If possible, avoid wearing tight socks or shoes. Go barefoot (if you’re at home) or wear open-toed shoes to minimize pressure on the nail.
These steps should provide you with some relief of symptoms, and give you a chance to recover from your ingrown toenail without further treatment.
As you do this, please keep a close eye on your toenail and monitor your symptoms. If you notice that the condition is getting worse instead of better, please call us.
One more thing: please DO NOT attempt to remove any part of the nail yourself. We really can’t stress this enough. “Bathroom surgery” is far more likely to cause an infection than to relieve your pain.
How Are Ingrown Toenails Treated by Dr. Miyazaki?
The great news is that professional treatment is fast, simple, and safe. Many people who hold out until the last minute for treatment end up telling us they wish they’d come to us right away.
In the safe, sterile environment of our office, we’ll apply a local anesthetic and them remove the ingrown portion of the nail. We’ll also, if necessary, prescribe a topical or oral medication to prevent or treat any infection.
This process takes only a few minutes, and is not painful. You can go home afterward, and by the time the anesthesia wears off your symptoms should be greatly improved. There will be some aftercare for you to perform at home, but for the most part this should not get in the way of your daily activities.
If you tend to get ingrown toenails again and again, we are also able to permanently remove the part of the nail that gets ingrown. This drops the risk of recurrence down to almost zero.
Whatever You Choose, Be Smart and Safe!
Maybe you’ve decided you want to try home treatment. Maybe you’ve discovered that home treatment isn’t a good idea—or you simply want the immediate relief that comes from an appointment with Dr. Miyazaki.
Either way, do not allow your ingrown toenail to become a burden on daily life or a risk to your future health! Be cautious, follow the instructions, and know when it’s time to “pack it in” and get our help. We are taking extensive precautions to keep our office healthy, safe, and sterile, so you can visit us with confidence. To schedule, call our office in Berkeley today at (510) 647-3744.