Ingrown toenails can be very painful, so it is sometimes difficult to tell if the injury has become infected based on pain alone. Usually, however, one can tell if an ingrown toenail is infected just by visually examining the toe. There are several warning signs of infection that will likely be present, including changes in skin color and temperature around the affected area, swelling, and pus.
Changes in skin color and temperature that may occur when an ingrown toenail is infected include redness and a feeling of warmth surrounding the affected area. The most obvious sign that an ingrown toenail has become infected is often the presence of pus, either around the affected area or draining from the wound. This is a sure sign that there is an infection present, because the body only produces pus when fighting an infection. Swelling usually occurs to accommodate the pus and other fluids present with infection. The toe may swell enough to cover a large portion of the nail, often making it much more difficult to access the ingrown area.
Many people try to solve ingrown toenails at home, not realizing the extent of the damage inflicted by digging around in the infected area using non-sterile equipment such as tweezers or toenail clippers. Generally, home remedies for infected ingrown toenails, such as cutting the nail shorter or attempting to dig the nail out, usually just make the problem worse. It is fine, however, to soak the toe in clean, warm water to soften the skin and apply antibiotic ointment to the toe until it is possible to get to the doctor. If the ingrown toenail is infected, a doctor can safely remove the ingrown portion of the toenail and apply antiseptic treatments to the wound to help get rid of the infection.
One should wear comfortable, loose shoes and socks that do not put pressure on the toes. Also, it is important to keep the feet clean to prevent the infection from worsening. Mild, over-the-counter pain killers are usually sufficient to keep the pain tolerable while walking and completing everyday activities until a doctor can fix the ingrown toenail. It is usually recommended to trim the toenails straight across to prevent future ingrown toenails, and avoid cutting the nail down too deeply on either side of the nail. Avoiding trauma that could injure the nail is important for healing current ingrown toenails and preventing future ones.