Ingrown toenails are a painful nuisance. Some people can go their whole life without one, but others just cannot get away from them. When a toenail becomes ingrown, it often leads to infection if not treated. Some people just ignore it, figuring the nail will right itself in time. The next thing they know, their toe is dark red, dripping with pus and wearing a shoe is simply out of the question.

After a terribly bad infected toenail in my youth, I visited the doctor where he told me that some people are more prone to ingrown toenails than others. The doctor said my nails would grow out of it. Fun pun aside, I am still waiting for them to grow out of it.

If you are like me and have toes prone to ingrown toenails, there are a variety of options to take to prevent them and treat them. The best option is to let your toe nails grow and never rip the nail off and never cut it below the skin. However, getting it to grow above the skin takes weeks of constant diligence and teasing.

ingrown toenail

The First Signs

The first signs of an ingrown toenail are discomfort in one or both sides of the toe. If you can see the nail that is growing into the skin, one of the worst things you can do is dig it out and clip it off. This is only delaying the inevitable. The nail you clipped off will only regrow and become ingrown again. Clip a little 'v' in the center of your toenail to encourage the nail to grow away from digging in the skin. Be sure to coax the nail out of the skin so that it does not burrow in there.

If you choose to leave the nail and let it right itself, be sure to frequently check your toe for infection. If it starts to become red, you need to start taking steps to treat infection. If your toe begins to pus and / or turn a dark red, you need to see a doctor for antibiotics. If you just choose to ignore the infection and live with the pain, the infection can lead to blood poisoning and the loss of your toe. If you begin to see black lines in your toe or foot, this is a sign of blood poisoning and you need to visit the emergency room. If you have yet to experience a severely infected toe, just know that wearing close toed shoes will become too painful and the pain will be ever present. Do not let it get that bad.

infected toenail

Treating the Infection Naturally

If you let your ingrown toenail turn into an infected toenail, there are some steps you can take to clear up the infection without visiting the doctor. Of course, if the infection gets worse instead of better you will need to visit the doctor.

Give your toe some air. Whenever you can, let your toe breathe. You may not want to wear sandals with an infected toenail, but it would definitely be good for it. Feet sweat when in shoes and this moisture is food for bacteria and infection. At very least, take off your shoes immediately when you get home.

Soak your feet in Epsom salt. Epsom salt has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. Soaking your infected toe in warm water infused with Epsom salts will make the skin soft to help draw out the infection. Previously I said the worst thing you could do for an ingrown toenail was to cut it. However, once it becomes infected, if you can cut it out, you should. My worst infected toenail was solved by me excruciatingly digging around the infected flesh after and Epsom salt soak and cutting out the infected toenail. It cured the almost non-stop pain, saved my toenail, and the infection cleared up in a week. Though try to avoid cutting the skin as this can increase the infection and spread it to the blood.

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Keep the infection clean. You can keep a bandage over your infected toenail while you are wearing socks and shoes, however you also need to remove that when you get home to let the wound breathe. To treat the infection you can pour peroxide over it, this is especially helpful if your infected toenail has started to pus. You can also use  tea tree oil, which is a very strong and natural antibacterial. If you have removed the infected toenail that is causing the infection, cover the infected area with Neosporin to help it heal faster and cleaner.

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Treat the Infection with a Doctor

If trying to heal an infected and ingrown toenail naturally is not working out it is time to pay a visit to the doctor. There are several things you can expect depending on the severity of the infection.

If you have just an ingrown toenail or a minimal infection, it is probable your doctor will just tell you to cut a 'v' in the center of your nail and soak it in Epsom salt. You know, those natural remedies.

If the infection is causing your toe to swell and look bright red, your doctor will prescribe you with antibiotics for the infection, and again tell you to repeat the natural remedies.

If your infection is really bad or if this is not your first ingrown and infected toenail, your doctors will turn to something drastic. They will give you the antibiotics, but this time they will also take off a piece or all of your toenail. Some doctors use a local anesthetic and some do not, either way it is not a pleasant experience.

If your nail does need to be cut off, it will grow back. However, if you are prone to ingrown toenails, you might not want to let that toenail grow back. it will just repeat the process. Regular visits to a podiatrist can help the nail grow back so that it doesn't dig into the skin again. Or the podiatrist can help keep the nail from growing back with acid or a laser. Some people are willing to take the weird looking toe without a nail once they experience the agony that is a seriously infected toenail.