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Ingrown Toenail: Brief Version


What is an ingrown toenail?

An ingrown toenail is when part of the toenail grows into the skin of the toe. It makes your child's toe tender, red, and swollen. It is usually caused by tight shoes.

How can I take care of my child?

  • Soak the toe. Soak the foot for 20 minutes twice a day in warm water and antibacterial soap. While the foot is soaking, massage the swollen part of the cuticle away from the nail.
  • Use antibiotic ointment. Put an antibiotic ointment on the toe 3 times a day. You can buy this ointment without a prescription.
  • Cut off the corner of the toenail. The pain is usually caused by the corner of the toenail rubbing against the raw cuticle. Your doctor will cut this corner off. Your doctor only needs to do this only once. This helps the nail grow over the nail cuticle rather than get stuck in it. During soaks try to bend the corners of the nail upward.
  • Don't wear shoes. Have your child wear sandals or go barefoot a lot. This helps keep pressure off of the toenail until it heals. When your child must wear closed shoes, you can protect the ingrown toenail this way:
    • If the inner edge of the toenail is hurt, tape a foam pad or a cotton ball between the first and second toes to keep them from touching.
    • If the outer edge is hurt, tape a foam pad or a cotton ball to the outside of the ball of the toe to keep the toenail from touching the side of the shoe.

How can I prevent ingrown toenails?

Make sure that your child's shoes are not too narrow. Get rid of any pointed or tight shoes. Cut the toenails straight across, so that you can see the corners. Cut the toenails every week.

Call your child's doctor right away if:

  • Your child develops a fever.
  • A red streak spreads beyond the toe.

Call your child's doctor during office hours if:

  • Any pus or yellow drainage is not cleared up after 48 hours of treatment.
  • The cuticle has not totally healed in 2 weeks.
  • You have other concerns or questions.

Written by B.D. Schmitt, MD, author of "Your Child's Health," Bantam Books.
Published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2009-06-22
Last reviewed: 2010-06-02

This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a health care professional.

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