An ingrown toenail is a portion of the toenail curving into the flesh of the toe. The toenail 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 make the nail curve and overgrow into the flesh of the toe.
Ingrown toenails are more common in people with family members that have them.
Other factors that may increase the chances of an ingrown toenail:
- Improper cutting or trimming of the toenail
- Wearing footwear that is too tight
- Repeated trauma to the toes, often due to sports activities
- Fungal infections of the toenails
- Turner syndrome
Ingrown toenails often do not cause symptoms at first. Eventually, the following symptoms may develop:
- Pain—sometimes severe
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.
It may be possible to care for the ingrown toenail. Some of the following may help:
- Wearing open-toed shoes or sandals to reduce any pressure on the toenail
- Soaking the foot in warm water and drying it thoroughly
Promptly seek medical care for an ingrown toenail if you have any of the following conditions:
- An ingrown toenail that is severe, worsening, or not getting better
- Age: over 50 years
- Circulatory problems
- A disorder of your immune system
- Any other chronic health problem
Medical care may be needed if the ingrown toenail does not respond to self-care. This may include:
- Topical antibiotics, such as a cream or ointment
- Using a splint to lift the corner of the nail away from the soft tissue of the toe
- Removing the ingrown portion of the toenail
If you repeatedly get ingrown toenails, or your ingrown toenail is severe, your doctor may:
- Remove a portion of the toenail and apply medication to the site to prevent that portion of the nail from growing back
- Remove the entire toenail so that the nail will not grow back
To help reduce the chances of an ingrown toenail:
- Cut your toenails straight across and avoid rounding the edges. The corner of the nail should be visible above the skin of your toe.
- Wear shoes and socks that fit properly and are not too tight.
- Keep your feet clean and dry.
American Podiatric Medical Association
Foot Health Facts—American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons
Canadian Podiatric Medical Association
Wounds Canada—Canadian Association of Wound Care
Ingrown toenail. Foot Health Facts—American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons website. Available at: https://www.foothealthfacts.org/conditions/ingrown-toenail. Accessed March 6, 2018
Ingrown toenails. Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians website. Available at: https://familydoctor.org/condition/ingrown-toenails. Updated January 2018. Accessed March 6, 2018.
Paronychia. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115236/Paronychia. Updated August 11, 2017. Accessed March 6, 2018.
Zuber TJ. Ingrown toenail removal. Am Fam Physician. 2002;65(12):2547-2554.
Last reviewed March 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Monica Zangwill, MD, MPH Last Updated: 2/20/2017