Ingrown Toenail

What is Ingrown Toenail

Ingrown toenail occurs when the corner or sides of a toenail grow into the surrounding skin. This causes discomfort and pain.

The big toe is most commonly affected, but any of the toes can be affected. If an ingrown toenail is not treated, it can become infected.

What are the causes?

This condition may be caused by:

  • Wearing shoes that are too small or tight.
  • An injury, such as stubbing your toe or having your toe stepped on.
  • Improper cutting or care of your toenails.
  • Having nail or foot abnormalities that were present from birth (congenital abnormalities), such as having a nail that is too big for your toe.

What increases the risk?

The following factors may make you more likely to develop ingrown toenails:

  • Age. Nails tend to get thicker with age, so ingrown nails are more common among older people.
  • Cutting your toenails incorrectly, such as cutting them very short or cutting them unevenly.

An ingrown toenail is more likely to get infected if you have:

  • Diabetes.
  • Blood flow (circulation) problems.

What are the signs or symptoms?

Symptoms of an ingrown toenail may include:

  • Pain, soreness, or tenderness.
  • Redness.
  • Swelling.
  • Hardening of the skin that surrounds the toenail.

Signs that an ingrown toenail may be infected include:

  • Fluid or pus.
  • Symptoms that get worse instead of better.

How is this diagnosed?

An ingrown toenail may be diagnosed based on your medical history, your symptoms, and a physical exam. If you have fluid or blood coming from your toenail, a sample may be collected to test for the specific type of bacteria that is causing the infection.

How is this treated?

Treatment depends on how severe your ingrown toenail is. You may be able to care for your toenail at home.

  • If you have an infection, you may be prescribed antibiotic medicines.
  • If you have fluid or pus draining from your toenail, your health care provider may drain it.
  • If you have trouble walking, you may be given crutches to use.
  • If you have a severe or infected ingrown toenail, you may need a procedure to remove part or all of the nail.

Follow these instructions at home:

Foot care

  • Do not pick at your toenail or try to remove it yourself.
  • Soak your foot in warm, soapy water. Do this for 20 minutes, 3 times a day, or as often as told by your health care provider. This helps to keep your toe clean and keep your skin soft.
  • Wear shoes that fit well and are not too tight. Your health care provider may recommend that you wear open-toed shoes while you heal.
  • Trim your toenails regularly and carefully. Cut your toenails straight across to prevent injury to the skin at the corners of the toenail. Do not cut your nails in a curved shape.
  • Keep your feet clean and dry to help prevent infection.

Medicines

  • Take over-the-counter and prescription medicines only as told by your health care provider.
  • If you were prescribed an antibiotic, take it as told by your health care provider. Do not stop taking the antibiotic even if you start to feel better.

Activity

  • Return to your normal activities as told by your health care provider. Ask your health care provider what activities are safe for you.
  • Avoid activities that cause pain.

General instructions

  • If your health care provider told you to use crutches to help you move around, use them as instructed.
  • Keep all follow-up visits as told by your health care provider. This is important.

Contact a health care provider if:

  • You have more redness, swelling, pain, or other symptoms that do not improve with treatment.
  • You have fluid, blood, or pus coming from your toenail.

Get help right away if:

  • You have a red streak on your skin that starts at your foot and spreads up your leg.
  • You have a fever.

Summary

  • An ingrown toenail occurs when the corner or sides of a toenail grow into the surrounding skin. This causes discomfort and pain. The big toe is most commonly affected, but any of the toes can be affected.
  • If an ingrown toenail is not treated, it can become infected.
  • Fluid or pus draining from your toenail is a sign of infection. Your health care provider may need to drain it. You may be given antibiotics to treat the infection.
  • Trimming your toenails regularly and properly can help you prevent an ingrown toenail.
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