by Rick Alan
An ingrown toenail happens when a portion of the toenail curves into the flesh of the toe. It then imbeds itself in the soft tissue. It can occur on any of the toes. However, it usually occurs on one of the big toes.
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Trauma and improper nail care makes the nail curve and overgrow into the flesh of the toe.
The main risk factor that increases your chances of having ingrown toenails is having family members with ingrown toenails.
Other risk factors include:
Ingrown toenails often do not cause symptoms at first. Eventually, the following symptoms may develop:
In almost all cases, you or your doctor can diagnose an ingrown toenail based on the location and the symptoms.
In rare cases, you may need an x-ray. For example, if your doctor suspects an infection may have spread to the toe bone.
You may be able to treat an ingrown toenail yourself if you catch it early. If the condition gets worse or does not improve, you will need to seek medical care. If you have diabetes, you must seek medical attention for any infection or wound involving your feet or toes.
Your doctor may recommend the following treatments:
If you repeatedly get ingrown toenails, or your ingrown toenail is severe, your doctor may:
To help prevent ingrown toenails:
American Orthopaedic Foot and Ankle Society
American Podiatric Medical Association
Calgary Foot Clinic
Canadian Podiatric Medical Association
Ingrown toenails. American Podiatric Medical Association website. Available at:
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Accessed May 2, 2013.
Matsumoto K, Hashimoto I, et al. Resin splint as a new conservative treatment for ingrown toenails. J Med Invest . 2010;57(3-4):321-325.
The Merck Manual of Medical Information—Home Edition . Simon and Schuster, Inc.; 2000.
Roberts JR, et al. Clinical Procedures in Emergency Medicine . 4th ed. Saunders; 2004.
Woo SH, Kim IH. Surgical pearl: nail edge separation with dental floss for ingrown toenails. J Am Acad Dermatol . 2004;50(6):939-940.
Last reviewed February 2014 by Michael Woods, MD
Last Updated: 2/18/2014