Debunking Ingrown Toenail Treatment Recommendations

February 22, 2023

Just like you’re reading this article now, for many people with an ingrown toenail, particularly if it’s their first time with one, they’ll also head online to seek out the best way to treat an ingrown toenail. And after hearing some interesting feedback from our patients in terms of their online search results, we decided to jump online to have a look ourselves – and set the record straight on what we found. And you can bet we were surprised! Here are seven treatment options presented by an article – and our thoughts on these findings.

“Soak the affected foot: Soaking the affected foot in warm water several times a day can help reduce inflammation and ease pain”

While regularly soaking the foot that has your ingrown toenail can help relieve your pain, there are two misconceptions here: first, this effect is very temporary. Next, it doesn’t actually treat, fix or resolve an ingrown toenail. The ingrown portion of your toenail still remains embedded in the surrounding skin, and so the pain and problem will continue to bother you – and is likely to continue to get worse over time.

“Wear comfortable shoes: Wearing comfortable, non-restrictive shoes can help reduce pressure on the affected toenail”

While we always support the advice to wear comfortable shoes, this advice also doesn’t fix the problem of your ingrown toenail. It can help you feel more comfortable and reduce your immediate pain – but it doesn’t remove the painful nail spicule from the skin. This advice also doesn’t clarify what shoes you should wear, beyond being comfortable and being non-restrictive. Specifically, you want shoes that either have a big, spacious toe box for your toe to sit freely in without being pressed on, or ones with an open-toe region.

“Lift the nail: Gently lifting the edge of the ingrown nail with a small piece of cotton or dental floss can help it grow out straight”

If treating an ingrown toenail was as simple as just “lifting” the ingrown piece of the nail out of the skin, then we wouldn’t have a whole clinic dedicated to treating this painful and frustrating condition – and the pain and frustration is often linked to not being able to do anything to ease the pain (beyond temporary medicated relief) at home. When cotton is used to lift the nail, in most cases the offending nail spicule is still left in the skin, continuing to cause ongoing pain and irritation, even if the severity is somewhat reduced. It also doesn’t stop the ingrown nail from recurring in the future.

“Apply antibiotic ointment: Applying an antibiotic ointment to the affected area can help prevent infection”

While it’s true that antibiotic ointment can help prevent infection, which can help ease symptom severity, this also does not fix the problem of your ingrown toenail. This is because antibiotics don’t remove a nail spicule of the skin and don’t treat the underlying cause of an ingrown toenail. We’ve written specifically about antibiotics here.

“Take pain relievers: Over-the-counter pain relievers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen can help reduce pain and inflammation”

It is correct that pain relievers can help reduce pain and inflammation, but once again, offering this temporary relief from your pain and symptoms does not fix or treat your ingrown toenail. The nail spicule still remains deeply embedded in the skin, and only growing further in as time passes.

“See a podiatrist: A podiatrist can trim or remove the ingrown nail and may prescribe antibiotics if there is an infection”

Yes! You absolutely should see a podiatrist for an ingrown toenail. The first piece of advice we can agree on – and yes we can remove your ingrown toenail, though we won’t prescribe you antibiotics for an infection. For those that do need antibiotics, which many of our patients don’t, these are prescribed only by your GP.

“Surgery: In severe or recurrent cases, surgery may be recommended to remove the ingrown nail and prevent it from growing back”

Again, ingrown nail surgery is good advice. This is called a Partial Nail Avulsion (PNA) and involves your podiatrist removing a small section of the nail (including the ingrown portion with the nail spicule) so that you no longer have the nail piercing your skin. We can also apply a chemical to prevent the ingrown edge of the nail from returning. We recommend this for both severe cases, and when this isn’t your first time having an ingrown toenail. So this one is spot on – finally! So the morale of the story? Don’t trust everything you read on the internet – unless it’s from qualified health professionals that specialise in treating the exact problem you have. If you’re currently struggling with an ingrown toenail, book your appointment with our podiatrists by calling us on 09 523 2333 or book online here.