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Pain Caused by Ingrown Toenails
If you've ever woken up with a swollen toe, you know how painful it can be. The most common cause of a swollen toe is an infection caused by an ingrown toenail.
What Causes Painful Toe Swelling?
There are two major causes of toe swelling: an infection or an ingrown toenail. An ingrown toenail can often result in an infection, in which case the swelling is caused by both.
Causes of Ingrown Toenails
An ingrown toenail is most often caused by cutting toenails too short or wearing tight-fitting shoes or tights that cause the toenail to press in on the toe flesh as the nail is growing.
Ingrown toenails occur when the toenail begins to burrow into the soft skin rather than growing over the top of it.
Causes of Infection in Toes
Infected, swollen toes can cause major foot pain.
Often, the infected or swollen toe throbs painfully for hours, making it almost impossible to walk without pain.
Most times, the swelling is caused by a natural body defense, brought on when bacteria and germs invade the body through an opening caused by a cut, scratch, torn cuticle, or ingrown toenail.
When your body senses that an invasion is imminent, it sends white blood cells to the area to fight off intruders. As these white blood cells die off, they pile up, causing a swelling in the area. In a sense, a swollen toe is a good sign, because it means your body is busy at work trying to fight infection off to keep it from progressing further into your body.
Sometimes, you'll notice a swelling or infection in a finger or toe after clipping your nails. This can happen when the clippers are not properly sanitized or when the cuticle is torn, exposing the body to foreign bacteria.
How to Instantly Relieve the Pain of a Swollen Toe Caused by an Ingrown Toenail
If you wake up with a swollen toe brought on by infection or an ingrown toenail, you need to take fast action to prevent pain.
Here are some valuable tips to help you get over the pain fast:
- Start by sanitizing the swollen area with antibiotic cream or hydrogen peroxide. This will destroy any bacteria living on your skin that could cause further infection.
- Take an anti-inflammatory medication right away, even if you're not in much pain. Though you won't feel better right away, there's a long-term benefit. Just about the time your toe or finger begins to throb mercilessly, the medicine will be kicking in.
- For instant pain relief, spray the infected toe with a pain-relieving throat spray like Chloraseptic or apply a dab of Ambesol to the swollen toe. This will help numb the area until the pain medication starts to work.
- Soak your foot in a tub of hot water. Mix in a cup of epsom salt to help draw out the infection and reduce pain. Do this for 15 minutes three or four times a day. After soaking the foot, slide a piece of dental floss or cotton under the ingrown part of the nail to help the nail begin to grow above the skin.
- Wear open-toed shoes until the ingrown nail has healed and the swelling has gone away.
If all this fails, try this little trick:
Firmly grasp the finger or toe between your index finger and thumb. Next, put light pressure on the root of the nail slightly before (not on top of) where the beginning of the swollen area. Keep the pressure on the nail for at least twenty seconds before releasing. You may notice the area to which you are applying pressure turning white. This simple little move will provide almost as much pain relief as medicine.
If you wake up with a swollen toe brought on by infection or ingrown cuticle, you need to take fast action with these steps in order to prevent pain. If you have tried all of the above techniques and the swelling does not abate, see a doctor.
After following these steps, the swelling should go down. However, it is still important to take precautions, as the cut that caused the infection may not yet be healed. Continue to wear open-toed shoes for a few weeks, as closed-toed shoes can be a breeding ground for bacteria, and follow the steps below to prevent another infection.
Expert Tips to Help Keep Your Toenails Healthy
A painfully swollen toenail is treatable, but it's even easier to prevent. You can cut your risk of toenail infection or swollen toes by following these simple tips:
- Keep your feet clean.
- Use clean toenail cutters when clipping your toenails.
- Replace your toenail clippers before they get dull, or you'll end up pulling your toenails instead of cutting them.
- Never cut or pierce your toenail cuticle, as that can allow bacteria and germs to enter your body and cause infection, leading to swollen toes.
- Always clip your toenails across in a straight line. Never cut too closely to the skin because that risks a cut that will expose your body to foreign bacteria.
- Never cut, hold, and then tear a toenail as this is likely to tear the cuticle. If you are going to cut your toenail, cut a clean straight line with a single clip. If you need to clip twice, then do so.
- Toenails snags should be cut or snipped and not torn off. Doing so may expose the cuticle.
- Soak your feet in warm water until your toenails are soft. Then dry thoroughly and proceed to clip your nails. This will make toenails easier to cut, lessening the chance that you will accidentally tear into the cuticle and cause toenail infection.
If you already have a ripped toenail or a cut on your foot, it is important to take it seriously, as it can escalate from a minor to a major problem quickly. If you have a cut or tear in your foot:
- Keep bacteria out of your body by thoroughly cleaning your toes and feet daily with alcohol.
- Wear open-toed shoes. If you choose to wear closed-toed shoes, wear clean socks and spray anti-bacterial spray into your shoes to kill toenail fungus germs.
What Not to Do for a Swollen Toe
There are several urban legends regarding swollen or ingrown toenails. Here is what you should not do:
- Do not cut the toenail further or attempt to drain the nail. This misconception stems from people confusing the swelling caused by an infection and swelling caused by a blood blister (a bruise underneath the nail). While swelling in a blood blister is due to excess fluid, swelling in an infected ingrown toenail is a result of bacteria entering an opening in the skin. Cutting the toenail further may cause a greater opening for infection.
- Do not coat your toe with anything besides an antibiotic cream. Some people believe that other substances such as coal will relieve the infection. In reality, the infection is caused by bacteria, and only something that kills bacteria—by definition, an antibiotic—will relieve it. Any other substance may attract germs, inflicting further pain.
What to Do for an Ingrown Toenail That You Cannot Remove at Home
It is important to deal promptly with an ingrown toenail to help prevent toe infections.
If you cannot safely treat the ingrown toenail, you may need to visit your doctor for ingrown toenail surgery. The doctor can easily remove part of the ingrown toenail to relieve the foot pain.
Removing an ingrown toenail is a relatively painless procedure since your doctor will use a local anesthetic. The procedure can be done quickly on an out-patient basis.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
Kyleigh on May 07, 2020:
Im in sooo much pain it cept me up all night
Annie on September 16, 2018:
Saw 3 podiatrists after months of great toe pain and an ingrown toenail was diagnosed. Finally found doctor who knew exactly what it is. She cut excess nail going into the skin and advised Epsom salt foot bath for 15 min for about a week, then Betadine solution with a band-aid. It feels much better now and I can wear sneakers without pain now.
Chelsea on September 01, 2017:
My toe is red and very swollen
Riley on August 08, 2017:
I don't know if it's an ingrown toenail or not but I will try this
Lesly on August 01, 2017:
On top of all the suggested here I added a slice of fresh ginger root to the swollen area n wrapped it lightly - it helped with inflammation and pain immediately as well!
Kaz on May 17, 2017:
Very helpful. Would not think to do any of these. :)
Erik Christian on July 25, 2016:
Soak your foot in food grade hydrogen peroxide, buy it on line, it cures almost everything, acne, infections, teeth & gums, ears, skin cuts, scares, it cures most everything, must be food grade
thank you on April 20, 2016:
This really helped but I don't really want to wear open toed shoes because people accidentally step on my toes. Also I was we wondering why three of my toes hurt all at the same time. Idk if they r all ingrown toenails. I'm scared.
ouch on December 18, 2015:
hemerroid cream. reduces swelling. less swelling means ur nail doesnt grow into your skin as much
Sharon on May 09, 2015:
tried the throat spray suggestion, stopped hurting in about 15mins. So good and now the codeine and ibuprofen and kicked in so I should be good for a few hours :)
asdgfm on April 01, 2015:
I got mine out and my toe is still red and swollen will it go away soon?
Raquelkillz on January 26, 2015:
Omg! Its hurting so bad i could chop my toe off :( i wish the process would hurry up!
JoshY on August 12, 2014:
I had the "permanent" removal. Yet not much later the skin around my toenail closed the gap and they kept coming back so my only solution to pain relief was to cut the corners(knowing this would only make things worse later) now I got a bad throbbing pain in my toes should I just see a doctor if I do is it going to cost a lot?
Beverly Johnson (author) on February 28, 2013:
Sometimes soaking your foot first until the skin around your ingrown toenail is a good way to prevent pain when removing the toe nail. Be sure to dry off skin thoroughly before attempting any procedure. And, sterilize all equipment before and after. Follow up by apply a liberal dose of anti biotic cream or liquid to the area (or hydrogen peroxide) and wrap loosely to avoid infection. Hopefully, these tips will lessen any pain you might be having. For a severe ingrown toenail, please see a podiatrist or doctor as this could be sign of a more serious issue.
jay on July 20, 2012:
it was helpful but don't ignore any pain with painkillers, it's your body's alarm bell. go get it seen by a doctor.
MDV on April 27, 2012:
These procedures are not painless the relief is worth it, however the procedures which you have done are initially very painful!
CC on April 12, 2012:
Thank you! I think I finally removed the ingrown toenail that cause a hole as it grew in. Pus was continuesly leaking out, ew. I wish I had read this sooner, it would have helped with the pain as I did it.
At least now I know how to care for it.
mb on February 21, 2012:
Alfred Ruiz on March 28, 2011:
thx very helpful at the moment
Ruth on January 14, 2011:
very good article
I never thought about spraying my toes with a throat spray before.