An ingrown toenail occurs when a toenail grows down into the skin, damaging the soft tissue and causing inflammation. If you or someone in your family has an ingrown toenail— fear not! You aren’t alone. In fact, this condition is so common that 20% of patients who visit their family doctor due to foot problems have an ingrown toenail.
If left untreated, an ingrown toenail can become infected as it digs deeper into the skin (ouch!). The real question is, can ingrown toenail removal be done at home? Just like many things in life, the answer is, “Maybe… but use caution.” Below, we’ll discuss ingrown toenail home treatment options, why this can cause issues, and when you should see a podiatrist.
Ingrown Toenail Home Treatment Options
Ingrown toenails are common (especially the big-toe-toenails) because they are likely to develop for several reasons, so it’s important to make sure you keep up with proper hygiene and check on your toes regularly to catch signs of problems early on. When an ingrown toenail does occur, there are some home remedies that can help.
The most common home treatment options include:
- Soak the toe in soap and water or apple cider vinegar.
- Put cotton under the nail to promote proper growth.
- Apply antibiotic ointment.
These treatment options can help reduce pain and swelling, but not all ingrown toenails can (or should) be treated at home. If these treatment options aren’t working, it’s possible you may have an infection. When the pain is severe, it can be tempting to try and remove the toenail once and for all.
Why You Shouldn’t Remove an Ingrown Toenail at Home
Trimming or removing the toenail at home, called “bathroom surgery” by the American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons, can be dangerous because:
You’ll likely get an infection. This is due to the general presence of germs in non-professionally sterilized rooms and tools that— dare we say it — will lead to infection. An infection can cause swelling of the tissue, redness, and even more pain. In some cases, a blister filled with pus can form in the area that your podiatrist would need to drain before tackling the ingrown toenail itself.
It could regrow. If the toenail is repeatedly trimmed or partially removed incorrectly, this can increase the risk of the toenail regrowing at a downwards angle, causing another ingrown toenail.
It can damage the bone in your toe. If you get a severe infection, it can affect the bone structure of your foot, causing lasting issues and additional pain.
How a Podiatrist Removes an Ingrown Toenail
When you visit a great podiatrist for your ingrown toenail needs, the toenail condition will be assessed and your doctor will wish to discuss the history of your condition.
During this assessment, your podiatrist will determine if there is an infection. If an infection is present or if your ingrown toenail is reoccurring, they may suggest either lifting the nail or performing a matrixectomy— the in-office procedure to safely remove the ingrown toenail.
Lifting the Nail
Lifting the nail means that the corners of the nail are pulled away from the inflamed tissue. The toenail is not removed. Instead, it rests on top of the skin in the correct position to promote proper growth, sometimes with the help of a splint or sterile cotton to keep the nail straight.
This procedure involves numbing the area, ingrown toenail removal, and, sometimes, the application of phenol— a chemical that can kill cells of nails to reduce the toenail from growing back improperly. The toe is then bandaged and left to heal. Typically, a podiatrist will recommend a follow-up office visit to ensure proper healing.
Here To Remove an Ingrown Toenail— or Not
At the Foot & Ankle Group, we believe in patient-specific care. This means providing the unique care you need, when you need it. Since we take your foot health seriously, we frequently have same-day appointments for patients suffering from severe pain due to their foot (or ankle) medical issue— including ingrown toenails.
If you have questions regarding your foot and ankle health, reach out to us today. We’re here to help.
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