Do Ingrown Toenails Heal on Their Own?

Onychocryptosis is a big word for a common problem: an ingrown toenail. Nearly everyone has the unpleasant experience of having a toenail grow down into their skin at some point or other. What do you need to do when it happens?

At Alliance Foot & Ankle Specialists, Dr. Richard Nichols and Dr. Joseph Harvey have treated thousands of ingrown toenails of varying degrees of severity. Here, we discuss when you should worry, what you should do, and whether or not you should expect your ingrown toenail to heal without intervention. 

Risk factors for ingrown toenails

The main risk factor for getting an ingrown toenail is having a toenail. Pretty much anyone can have this problem, and it can happen on any toe. However, it most commonly happens to people who have thick, curving nails — as many older people do — and usually on the big toe.

What happens when you have an ingrown toenail

Just like the name suggests, when you have an ingrown toenail, your toenail grows in, or down into your skin. This can happen just because of the way your nail is shaped, how your nail was cut, because you’ve “stumped” your toe, or because your shoes are too tight. 

What you should do

If you have a condition like diabetes or arterial disease, you should seek medical care as soon as you notice signs of an ingrown toenail. Don’t try at-home remedies at all. 

If you notice that you seem to be developing an ingrown toenail early enough, there are some things you can try at home to help it heal. You can soak your foot in warm water, with or without Epsom salt, a few times a day. After your soak, gently massage the skin around your toe, pushing it away from the nail.

Wear open-toed shoes or shoes with lots of room in the toe box while your foot heals so that your nail isn’t squished against your skin and has room to grow out instead of in. You should also apply antibacterial cream to the area to prevent infection, and you can take over-the-counter pain relievers, if necessary. 

When to see a doctor

If you notice any signs of infection, which is quite common, you should book an appointment at Alliance Foot & Ankle right away. If the skin around your toe becomes red, inflamed, or pus drains from the area, your toe is likely infected.

If you soak and massage your foot for three to five days and don’t notice any signs of improvement, you should schedule an appointment. Your toenail continues to grow, and if your efforts aren’t working, the risk of infection rises as it grows. 


The best treatment depends on several factors. If you get ingrown toenails regularly, your doctor may suggest a more long-term treatment, such as removing your nail. Other potential treatments include removing part of your nail, a partial nail avulsion, or the application of a substance that prevents nail growth. If your nail is infected, you may need antibiotics. 

If you have an ingrown toenail, be on the safe side, and get help sooner instead of later. Schedule your appointment in our Keller or Grapevine location today.

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