Ingrown Toenail

What is an Ingrown Toenail?

An ingrown toenail is a condition in which the toenail actually grows into the skin along the sides of the nail bed rather than growing outward. When the toenail grows into the skin instead of over it, it can cause pain and even infections and other issues. More often than not, the big toes are the ones affected by ingrown toenails. However, it can occur with any toes on the foot.

One of the most common causes of ingrown toenails is cutting the toenails too short or cutting them at a curve. This can make toenails more prone to growing into the skin rather than over it. If a person wears shoes or socks that do not fit well and may constrict the toes and prevent the toenails from being able to grow as they should. Toe injuries can cause ingrown toenails as well. And then, sometimes a person just has toenails that naturally curve in toward the skin and ingrown toenails will be a persistent problem.

What are the Symptoms of an Ingrown Toenail?

Symptoms of an ingrown toenail can include pain and redness, swelling, and pus discharge, particularly if the ingrown toenail has become infected. Sometimes, the first sign of an ingrown toenail is that it feels as if a person has stubbed or injured their toe, even if no trauma has occurred. It may also feel as if a foreign object has been wedged under the nail or skin.

Ingrown Toenail Causes

There are many factors that can cause this painful condition. Many people get ingrown toenails from wearing footwear that is not the right size. When the toe box of a shoe is too small it can compress the foot and result in ingrown toenails. The same can happen when a person wears stockings that are too tight in the toes. In many cases, people develop this condition because of improper toenail care. Cutting the nail too short, or cutting the nail shorter on the sides, can result in ingrown nails. In addition, an injury or other trauma to the nail can cause it.

When the nail plates soften, this can result in a higher risk of ingrown nails. Soft nails can be caused by excessive perspiration. Having too much skin around the edges of a nail is also a risk factor. If the toenails are naturally curved inward, this places you at a high risk. In some cases, there is a genetic component, making it more likely for those with a family history of ingrown nails to develop it.

How is an Ingrown Toenail Treated?

Treating an ingrown toenail can often be done without surgical interventions. Non-surgical treatments for ingrown toenails include soaking the foot three to four times a day in warm water or sometimes in water with Epsom salt and keeping it as dry as possible the rest of the time. Separating the nail from the skin may also be necessary to allow the skin to heal. A small piece of cotton can be used as a dressing and changed daily to prevent infection.

However, sometimes home treatments are not enough to resolve the situation. An infection that does not clear up with soaking and wound packing may require antibiotics. Sometimes, a doctor also needs to perform a partial or total toenail removal procedure. However, these are usually last resort treatments as exposed nail beds can be painful and the nail may grow back deformed.

Ingrown Toenail Prevention

One of the best ways to prevent ingrown toenails is to take care when cutting the nails. They should be cut straight across in a square cut. Avoid cutting the edges lower than the top, and avoid cutting your nails shorter than the skin around them. Wear shoes that have plenty of room in the toe box to avoid too much pressure on your toes. Wear socks and tights that are also roomy. Take care of your toes, avoiding stubbing them and injuring them by dropping things on the nails. When you get a pedicure, ask the pedicurist to cut your nails straight and to help you avoid any ingrown areas. See a doctor at the first sign of any ingrown nails to avoid letting the condition get worse.

Last Reviewed:
September 21, 2016
Last Updated:
February 14, 2018