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Ingrown Toenail: What NOT To Do | Podiatrist Tips

Recently over our lockdown period, as we were unable to see patients under our higher alert levels, the questions around ingrown toenails came rolling in. A lot of the queries came after people had tried fixing their ingrown toenail at home. Some felt their pain had become worse, for some it stayed the same – and most people just wanted to know what they could do to help get some relief until the restrictions eased.


Given the number of people that tried fixing their nail at home first, we thought we’d share our tips for what NOT to do when you have an ingrown toenail, in case you find yourself in a situation again where you can’t get to your podiatrist for one reason or another.


1. Don’t Rip The Nail Off

When you pick, pull or rip the toenail, though it may seem like a way to get the nail off deeper than you can see, it very rarely helps an ingrown toenail – in fact, it’s often the original cause of ingrown toenails. As you get to the end of the nail and you pull it off, the nail often leaves behind a jagged edge where it is pulled. As it grows, this sharp spicule penetrates the surrounding skin and causes an ingrown toenail.


2. Don’t Cut Deep Down The Side Of The Nail, Beyond What You Can See

Toenails should be cut straight across, following the natural curvature of the toenail. They should not be cut down the side of the nail, as this encourages ingrown toenails. Often, the skin beside an ingrown toenail will swell and start to overlap the nail. This makes it difficult – and painful – to trim a toenail and see what you’re doing – and whether you’ve gotten all of the nail, or have left behind a piece of the nail – or even formed a new nail spicule to cause you pain in the future.


3. Don’t Cut A V In The Middle Of The Nail

It used to be thought that cutting a V in an ingrown toenail could help fix an ingrown toenail by encouraging the nail to grow more towards the centre of the nail to fill the V. Now we know this isn’t true and isn’t helpful. In fact, cutting the V and leaving the nail without proper treatment may worsen the situation as the nail can become infected, or the existing infection may worsen.


4. Don’t Wear Tight Shoes

Not only will it be painful, but it may push the sharp nail spicule further into the skin, causing more damage.


5. Don’t Rely On Painkillers, Antibiotics Or Other Medications To Fix The Problem

An ingrown toenail is caused by a piece of nail entering and growing into the skin. It’s a physical problem that can be relieved by carefully removing the offending piece of nail. Sometimes, rubbing from the nail may even cause a tiny corn in the area, which needs to be removed too for the pain to go away. 


Medications do not fix a physical problem like this. Painkillers will help relieve your pain temporarily, but the issue remains, so the pain will come back. Antibiotics can help manage any infection present in the area, or help prevent an infection, but they do not solve the problem of the nail being lodged in the skin. Other medications, like those that bring swelling down, can help give you some relief from the pain by reducing the swelling at your toe. Again, it doesn’t fix the problem. By all means, use medications to help get some relief before you’re able to get proper help, but don’t expect the problem to be fixed and always see your podiatrist as soon as you can.


6. Don’t Let Your Feet Stay In A Damp, Moist Environment

As ingrown toenails occur when a piece of nail pierces the skin, this break in the skin is vulnerable to infection. Bacteria and fungus breed best in dark, warm and moist environments. So don’t leave your feet in these conditions while you have an active ingrown toenail. Dry your feet well and let them breathe.


7. Don’t Attempt ‘Bathroom Surgery’

Finally, don’t try bathroom surgery at home – meaning digging deep into your ingrown toenail while your toe bleeds or you’re in agony. As podiatrists that specialise in ingrown toenails, we have years and decades of experience in detecting and removing ingrown nail spicules. They’re often deep and difficult to see – if you can even see them at all. Sometimes they grow softer and more breakable due to the moisture from piercing the skin. Other times they’re accompanied by a small corn that also needs removal. We see a lot more nails go wrong than right with bathroom surgery, and the nail ultimately becomes more complicated to treat once you get into the clinic. So we recommend avoiding this altogether. 


Auckland’s Ingrown Toenail Experts

What you should do is to book in with our experienced podiatrist as soon as alert level restrictions allow. Once it is safe to see you according to the government’s recommendations and the advice we receive from the Podiatry Board, we will prioritise getting you in urgently to care for your ingrown nail.


If you need an appointment for an ingrown toenail ASAP, book yours by calling us on 09 523 2333. Email us here if we’re currently not operating due to lockdown restrictions and you want us to contact you ASAP once we can operate.


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Hanan Kane

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