An ingrown toenail occurs when a toenail curves downward and grows into the skin. This can cause redness, swelling and a great deal of pain and discomfort. Ingrown toenails can be caused by genetic factors, trauma, shoes that are too tight or improper trimming of the nail. Fortunately, as long as you don't have an infection, you can care for your ingrown toenail at home.
Soak the toe in room temperature or slightly warm water. You can add Epsom's salt to help reduce swelling; it also helps prevent infection. The soak will help loosen the skin around the toenail. Once the skin is softer and more malleable, massage the skin around the nail. As you massage, gently pull the skin away from the nail. If you repeat this process daily, you should notice some relief in just a few days.
Gently lift the corner of the ingrown nail away from the skin. If you can create enough of a gap, roll a small piece of gauze and place it between the nail and the skin. This may be uncomfortable at first, but it will help elevate the nail and encourage it to grow in the right direction.
Do not try to cut the nail loose. Do-it-yourself surgery can worsen the condition. Cutting the skin can create an open wound that will be prone to infection, as feet are a breeding ground for all sorts of bacteria. In fact, cutting the nail too short is often a cause of ingrown toenails.
If you are prone to ingrown toenails, there are measures you can take to try to prevent them. Do not cut toenails too short. The number one reason for ingrown toenails is improper trimming. (See Reference 1) When the nail is too short it creates an environment where it is easy for the skin next to the nail to grow over it. Another measure you can take to avoid ingrown toenails is to make sure your shoes fit properly. Wearing shoes that are too tight can force the nail to curve downward and grow into the skin.
If you suspect that you have an infection or if your ingrown toenail does not get better after a few at-home treatments, consult your health care provider. If an ingrown toenail is left untreated, it can become infected and treatment will be more painful and more expensive.