How to Treat Your Child’s Toenail Issues at Home

As kids grow, it’s tough to keep their clothes and shoes fitting perfectly all the time. Squeezing into ill-fitting shoes is one common cause of ingrown toenails. These toenail issues may be painful and irritating for your child, but you can help them find relief with home remedies for ingrown toenails.

Signs of an Ingrown Toenail

Kids can have vague complaints or come home simply saying, “My toe hurts.” First, know how to spot an ingrown toenail. The edge of the toe becomes inflamed and red where the toenail has grown back under the skin. An ingrown toenail is not only painful, but if it gets infected it can also have pus or ooze.

Tight shoes are one of the most common reasons kids get an ingrown toenail, and it usually affects the big toe. Other causes are cutting toenails too short, trauma to the toe and sports that often cause regular contact to the toes, such as soccer.

Home Remedies for Ingrown Toenails

“When caught early, most ingrown toenails can be treated at home with simple remedies,” said Christine Dalrymple, DPM, a podiatrist at Foot Health Center of Merrimac Valley in Andover, Mass. “It’s important to catch and treat toenail issues early to prevent infection and help your child get relief.” Try these steps at home:

  • Soak the feet. Soak your child’s feet in warm water for about 20 minutes. The goal is to soften the skin and allow the toenail to come to the surface. You can add a few tablespoons of Epsom salt to the water, or try a half cup of apple cider vinegar or hydrogen peroxide as well. Epsom salt helps reduce swelling. Apple cider vinegar helps prevent bacteria, and hydrogen peroxide will clean the area.
  • Lift the toenail. After soaking, gently rub the toe to extract the toenail edge from the skin. If you can lift the toenail, cut the sharp edge. Put dental floss or gauze under the toenail to prevent it from growing back under the skin.
  • Wear open-toe shoes. Weather and school permitting, allow your child to wear open-toe shoes to help reduce discomfort and the chance of infection.
  • Cover it. When your child has to wear closed-toe shoes for school or sports, try placing a cotton ball on the sore area and tape it to prevent rubbing inside the shoe. When applying a bandage to the toe, make sure you apply it loosely to avoid pulling at the tissue.
  • Apply antibiotic ointment. If there’s pus or liquid oozing from the toenail, clean it and use antibiotic ointment after soaking. Opt for a cream-based ointment over a gel one.
  • See a doctor. If the toe appears red for more than a few days, visit a podiatrist, like the experts at Lahey Health.

When to See a Doctor

Many times you can reduce discomfort and the chance of infection in the toe at home and avoid a trip to the doctor.

“If the toe becomes infected, it’s best to see your pediatrician or a podiatrist,” Dr. Dalrymple said. “Your child may need a minor procedure in the office to remove the toenail from the skin.”

Discharge from the toe or a bad smell are signs of an infection. The doctor will numb the toe, then gently remove the corner of the nail and drain any pus or liquid.


Kids are active and grow fast, so it may be difficult to prevent all ingrown toenails, but you can take some steps to try to stop them from happening:

  • Cut toenails straight across and not too short. File the corners smooth.
  • Check your child’s toes regularly (e.g., after baths).
  • Keep your child in shoes that fit well, and avoid pointy shoes.

Ingrown toenails happen from time to time. Taking care of them quickly and seeing a doctor if you have further problems will keep your kids running and jumping pain free.


*The content on this website is for informational purposes only and is not medical advice. Please consult a physician regarding your specific medical condition, diagnosis and/or treatment.

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