What are ingrown
Ingrown toenails occur when the edges or corners of your nails
grow into the skin next to the nail. Your big toe is most likely to get an
You can treat ingrown toenails at home. However, they can cause
complications that might require medical treatment. Your risk of complications
is higher if you have diabetes or other conditions that cause poor circulation.
What causes ingrown
Ingrown toenails occur in both men and women.
According to the National Health Services (NHS), ingrown toenails may be more
common in people with sweaty feet, such as
teenagers. Older people may also be at higher risk because toenails thicken
Many things can cause an ingrown toenail, including:
- cutting toenails incorrectly (cut
straight across, since angling the sides of the nail can encourage the nail to
grow into the skin)
- irregular, curved toenails
- footwear that places a lot of
pressure on the big toes, such as socks and stockings that are too tight or
shoes that are too tight, narrow, or flat for your feet
- toenail injury, including
stubbing your toe, dropping something heavy on your foot, or kicking a ball
- poor posture
- improper foot hygiene, such as
not keeping your feet clean or dry
- genetic predisposition
feet extensively during athletic activities can make you especially prone to
getting ingrown toenails. Activities in which you repeatedly kick an object or put
pressure on your feet for long periods of time can cause toenail damage and
increase your risk of ingrown toenails. They include:
What are the symptoms
of ingrown toenails?
Ingrown toenails can be painful, and they
usually worsen in stages.
Early-stage symptoms include:
- skin next to the nail becoming tender,
swollen, or hard
- pain when pressure is placed on the toe
- fluid building up around the toe
If your toe becomes infected, symptoms may
- red, swollen skin
- oozing pus
- overgrowth of skin around the toe
Treat your ingrown toenail as soon as
possible to avoid worsening symptoms.
How are ingrown
Your doctor will most likely be able to
diagnose your toe with a physical exam. If your toe seems infected, you might
need an X-ray to show how deep the nail is. An X-ray can also reveal if:
- your ingrown nail was caused by injury
- you have a history of chronic infections
- your pain is severe
What are the
treatment options for ingrown toenails?
Ingrown toenails that aren’t infected can
normally be treated at home. However, if your toenail has pierced the skin, or
there is any sign of infection, seek medical treatment. Signs of infection
- redness and swelling
To treat your ingrown toenail at home, try:
- soaking your feet in warm water for about 15
to 20 minutes three to four times a day
- pushing skin away from the toenail edge with
a cotton ball soaked in olive oil
- using over-the-counter medicines, like acetaminophen
(Tylenol), for the pain
- applying a topical antibiotic, such as polymyxin
(both present in Neosporin) or a steroid cream, to prevent infection
Try home treatments for a few days to a few
weeks. If the pain worsens or you find it difficult to walk or perform other
activities because of the nail, see your doctor.
If the toenail does not respond to home
treatments or an infection occurs, you may need surgery. In cases of infection,
stop all home treatments and see your doctor.
Surgery can be used in several ways to treat
ingrown toenails. Partial nail removal only removes the piece of nail that
is digging into your skin. Your doctor numbs your toe and then narrows the
toenail. According to the NHS, partial nail removal is 98 percent
effective for preventing future ingrown toenails.
The sides are cut away so that the edges are
completely straight. A piece of cotton is placed under the remaining portion of
the nail to keep the ingrown toenail from recurring. Your doctor may also treat
your toe with a compound called phenol, which keeps the nail from growing back.
Total nail removal may be used if your
ingrown nail is caused by thickening. The doctor will give you a
local pain injection and then remove the entire nail in a procedure called a
Your doctor will send you home with your toe
bandaged. You will probably need to keep your foot raised for the next one to
two days and wear special footwear to allow your toe to heal properly.
Avoid movement as much as possible. Your
bandage is usually removed two days after surgery. Your doctor will advise you
to wear open-toed shoes and to do daily salt water soaks until your toe heals.
You will also be prescribed pain relief medication and antibiotics to prevent
Your toenail will likely grow back a few
months after a partial nail removal surgery. If the entire nail is removed down
to the base, the nail matrix under your skin, a toenail can take over a year to
fully grow back.
Complications of ingrown toenails
If left untreated, an ingrown
toenail infection can cause an infection in the bone in your toe. A toenail
infection can also lead to foot ulcers, or open sores, and a loss of blood flow
to the infected area. Tissue decay and tissue death at the site of infection
are possible consequences.
A foot infection can be more
serious if you have diabetes. Even a small cut, scrape, or ingrown toenail may
quickly become infected due to the lack of blood flow and nerve sensitivity.
See your doctor right away if you have diabetes and are concerned about an ingrown toenail infection.
If you have a genetic predisposition to
ingrown toenails, they may keep coming back or appear on multiple toes at once.
Your quality of life may be affected by constant pain, infections, and other
painful foot issues that require multiple treatments or surgeries. In this
case, your doctor may recommend a partial or full matrixectomy to remove the
toenails causing chronic pain.
Ingrown toenails can be prevented by making
several lifestyle changes:
- Trim your toenails straight across and make
sure that the edges do not curve in.
- Avoid cutting toenails too short.
- Wear proper fitting shoes, socks, and tights.
- Wear steel-toed boots if you work in
If your toenails are abnormally curved or
thick, surgery may be necessary to prevent ingrown nails.