Ingrown Toenails in Tough Times

ingrown toenail

You may think toenail problems are small stuff, but trying to do the activities of daily survival with an ingrown toenail is a big deal in times of trouble. When you have to be at 110% efficiency, you sure don’t want to have pain every time you take a step.

An ingrown toenail (also known as Onychocryptosis) occurs when the edge of the nail grows down and into the skin of the toe. There may be pain, redness, and swelling around the nail. It can occur for a number of reasons, but poorly fitting shoes and poorly trimmed toenails are the most common causes. The big toe is usually affected, but any toenail can become ingrown.

Symptoms of an Ingrown Toenail

The skin along the edge of a toenail that is ingrown may appear:

  •  Red
  • Swollen
  • Painful
  • Vaguely warm to the touch

ingrown toenail drawing

Infection could easily occur, even to the point of draing pus from the area.

Ingrown Toenails and Shoes That Are Too Tight or  Loose

How do tight or loose shoes cause ingrown toenails? Ingrown toenails occur when extra pressure is placed on your toe. High heels are a culprit also, as more of your weight winds up on your big toe (you’re essentially standing on tiptoes in the highest heels). Loose shoes cause continual pounding of your big toe of the shoe due to movement within the show as you walk.

Nails that are not trimmed properly can also cause ingrown toenails. This happens when your toenails are trimmed too short or you cut your toenails in a rounded fashion instead of straight across. Rounded nails are the right way to cut fingernails, but not toenails. This causes the edges of the nails to curl downward and grow right into the skin.

While the above are ways you might prevent ingrown toenails, other factors like heredity, injuries, or medical conditions may also be a factor. Some people are born with nails that are curved and tend to grow downward. Injuries to the nail bed can also cause ingrown toenails (always wear appropriate and well-fitting boots).

See my article on nailbed injuries here:

People with diabetes or other illnesses that cause poor circulation are also higher risk for these problems. Certain medical conditions may damage the nerves that give you signals that something is wrong down there.

To figure out if an ingrown toenail is your problem, you’ll see that the nail may even seem to be growing underneath the skin. As previously mentioned, the skin may be swollen, firm, red, painful, or even a little warm if it’s infected. In that case, there may be a small amount of pus present. Infections will occur more often than you’d think in a survival setting, since most young, rugged individualists just don’t think it’s a big problem. If ignored, however, Ingrown nails can cause major issues with skin ulcers, blood infections, or even gangrene in the worst scenarios.

Of course, in normal times, there are doctors like podiatrists or orthopedic specialists you should visit to deal with the problem. Don’t try to do your own brain transplant; that’s a sure sign that you really need a new brain!

If you’re on your own in a survival situation, here’s how to treat an ingrown nail at home:

  •  Soak the foot in warm water with Epsom salts 3 to 4 times a day if possible. In between soaks, keep the toe dry.
  • Use an antiseptic to decrease the bacterial count in the area
  • Place a small piece of moist cotton or waxed dental floss under the nail to help it grow away from the skin.
ingrown toenail barrier cotton

Cotton as ingrown toenail barrier

ingrown toenail barrier

Alternative ingrown toenail barrier

You may CAREFULLY trim the toenail, if needed. When trimming your toenails:

  • Soak your foot in warm water to soften the nail.
  • Use a clean, sharp trimmer.
  • Trim toenails straight across the top, and don’t trim too short.
  • Consider wearing sandals until improved.

If your ingrown nail does not heal, part of a nail may require removal. They’ll take the ingrown side, about 1/5 of the nail or less, often all the way down to the very base. This happens,usually, after injecting some numbing medicine in the area. You might not find lidocaine, but you could find some freeze sprays like ethyl chloride might help in a grid-down situation. Poor substitute, but better than nothing. Without some type of anesthesia, it’ll hurt like a son of a gun.

ingrown toenail surgery

After Ingrown Toenail Surgery

If the toe is infected, antibiotics might be appropriate. Triple antibiotic ointment may be helpful here. If you need oral antibiotics, Keflex (fish-flex), Clindamycin (Fish-Cin) and Amoxicillin (fish-mox forte) will probably be effective.  For more information about antibiotics, go here for the first of a 4 part series:

If a portion of the nail is cut off, it will take 2 to 4 months for the nail to regrow, so be patient. If you have a genetic tendency toward ingrown toenails, the condition could possibly recur.

Wearing properly-fitted and protetive shoes, managing medical conditions, and teaching appropriate foot grooming methods to your children will make sure that the steps on your journey to medical preparedness won’t be painful ones.

For my youtube video on this topic, go to:

Joe Alton, M.D. aka Dr. Bones                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           The Disaster Doctor


Worried about medical issues when society goes down the tube?  Get a copy of The Survival Medicine Handbook,
a must have reference for every survival library!

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2 Responses to “Ingrown Toenails in Tough Times”

  1. Mike Connolly says:

    I can tell you, it will ruin your life temporarily while dealing with this. I’m a trucker, and I broke my big toe a few months back. I guess when I did, it messed up my toenail and the Dr. I seen did not notice the damage u guess. Fast forward 5 months …… I noticed nee growth pushing the funky looking nail up and away. It was painful and when I snatched the old nail off, it bled a little puss. I tried to keep it dry and clean the next month, but it only got worse. I ended up cutting out the side of my nail with a multi-tool. Yeah. That only made it worse. I finally went to the Dr. yesterday and he was able to remove the rest of the nail and the damaged part of the old nail that was causing the all the infection. He smacked me in the back of the head when my wife showed him the pictures of the multi tool surgery and the silver duct tape dressing. They both got a good laugh as he jammed that needle full of lidocaine deep into my big toe. The whole time he’s telling me that he knows nothing about driving a truck and I know nothing about toe surgery. He promised not to get behind the wheel of a semi if I promised to not do any more surgery on myself. I have to say, he made a pretty strong point.
    I couldn’t help but think how painful this would be grid down with no numbing mess.

    • Dr Bones says:

      Wow, what a story, you’re absolutely right when you say it’s going to be no fun to have an ingrown toenail off the grid…

      all the best,

      Dr. Bones

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