If you’ve ever attempted to consult “Dr. Google”—or maybe your aunt Frannie—for advice on your ingrown toenails, you might have gotten a lot of different suggestions and mixed messages.
Some people swear by apple cider vinegar. Others insist that cutting a V-shaped notch in the end of the nail will pull out the ingrown edges as it grows. It’s natural to ask yourself, “Hey, do any of these options actually work? And if so, which ones work best?”
We’re here to help you answer those questions. But before we do, you first need to assess the severity of your situation. Not all ingrown toenails are created equal, after all.
How Serious Is the Problem?
The reason why this question is so important is because a more severe ingrown toenail—or one with a higher level of risk—really needs to be escalated directly to professional care at our office. However, if your situation is lower risk, you might consider home remedies first.
Here are a few factors to keep in mind:
- Pain. Is your ingrown toenail only providing mild discomfort, or severe pain that is disrupting your day-to-day living? The more bearable your discomfort, the more willing you may be to try home care.
- Infection. If you notice any indication of infection—including redness, swelling, warm skin, discoloration, or drainage—you should not attempt home care.
- Underlying conditions. If you have diabetes, neuropathy, or any other condition affecting nerve health or circulation in your feet, you should not attempt home care.
- (Lack of) improvement. If your ingrown toenail has been bothering you for several days and does not seem to be improving despite home care, come in and see us.
- Recurrence. If ingrown toenails have been a constant struggle for you in the past, there is likely a hereditary component—but one that can be easily fixed by a foot specialist.
- Convenience. Professional treatment for ingrown toenails is quick, simple, and provides rapid relief. Any home care solution is going to take some time to work, if it even works at all. So you may simply choose to avoid the hassle.
If, after thinking about the factors above, you’ve decided to seek professional care, go ahead and skip down to the section below titled “The Best Treatment Option.”
If you’d like to try managing the problem at home first—and it’s safe for you to do so (no infection, no diabetes or neuropathy, etc.)—read on.
Conservative Treatment Options
Conservative home treatments are an option for healthy individuals with mild ingrown toenails. But we’ll be clear—you came here to find the best way to fix an ingrown toenail, and none of these are it. However, the decision is up to you whether or not you want to try these first.
Here is our recommended course of action, if you decide to take up home care on your own:
- Change your shoes. If you notice pain is more frequent with a particular pair of shoes, do not wear that pair. Instead, wear shoes with spacious toe boxes, open-toed shoes, or go barefoot as much as possible to avoid pressing on the nail.
- Soak your feet. We recommend warm (not hot) water, 15 minutes at a time, up to 3 or 4 times per day. Not only does this feel good, but it helps alleviate some of the pain and swelling. After the soak, you may attempt to gently lift the nail with a clean piece of waxed dental floss.
- Apply antibiotic cream. This is a sensible precaution to help reduce the risk of developing an infection.
Most other “home remedies” you might find for ingrown toenails are not recommended. Many of them simply provide no benefit—the V-shaped notch being a good example of a “treatment” that has no effect whatsoever on an ingrown toenail.
However, a few are actively dangerous. Most importantly, you should never, under any circumstances, attempt to dig or cut out the nail borders yourself. This will only lead to more pain and a significantly increased risk of infection.
The Best Treatment Option
While conservative therapies may eventually be effective in some cases, the best treatment option is almost always going to be a partial ingrown toenail removal from a podiatrist.
In fact, this is a pretty simple and straightforward procedure for a trained specialist like Dr. Yuko Miyazaki, and the relief you feel afterward is incredible.
Here’s how it works—and it only takes about 15 minutes from beginning to end:
- First, we inject a small amount of local anesthetic into the toe to ensure you don’t feel any pain during the procedure.
- Next, we’ll gently cut out and remove the portion of the nail border digging into the surrounding skin.
- Finally, if your ingrown toenails are a recurring problem (or you just want to be sure you’re rid of them for good), we’ll also remove some of the nail matrix underneath. This prevents that edge of the nail border from growing back.
After that, your toe will be bandaged, and we may also prescribe an antibiotic to prevent or treat an infection if we feel it is necessary to do so.
There are many significant advantages to this type of procedure, many of which we’ve already highlighted above but will summarize again below:
- Quick. You could easily be in and out the door in half an hour or less.
- Safe. Unlike with “bathroom surgery,” you’ll have your nail border removed by a trained professional in a sterile environment. This keeps your risk of complications very low.
- Painless. You shouldn’t feel any discomfort during the procedure, and by the time the anesthesia wears off your symptoms should be all or mostly gone.
- Unobtrusive. There should be little if any downtime associated with this procedure. Full healing can take up to a couple of weeks, but most patients are at least able to return to wearing regular shoes and performing their normal activities immediately.
- Permanent. If you choose to undergo the nail matrix procedure, the recurrence rate for ingrown toenails along that nail border drops to almost zero.
If you still want to try home treatments despite all these advantages, that’s your choice. But in our opinion, going straight to a professional like Dr. Miyazaki really is a no-brainer.
That said, do remember that, no matter who you are, prompt treatment for an ingrown toenail is extremely important. If you let one go too long, you could wind up with a really dangerous infection. If you have a painful ingrown toenail, and conservative remedies are not advised, aren’t working, or just aren’t for you, please call our office in Berkeley, CA today at (510) 647-3744, or complete an online contact form to have a member of our staff reach out to you. We will get you in and have you up and walking, pain-free, as soon as possible.