An ingrown toenail occurs when the edge of the nail grows down and into the skin of the toe.
An ingrown toenail can result from a number of things. Poorly fitting shoes and toenails that are not properly trimmed are the most common causes. The skin along the edge of a toenail may become red and infected. The great toe is affected most often, but any toenail can become ingrown.
Ingrown toenails may occur when extra pressure is placed on your toe. This pressure is caused by shoes that are too tight or too loose. If you walk often or participate in athletics, a shoe that is even a little tight can cause this problem. Deformities of the foot or toes can also place extra pressure on the toe.
Nails that are not trimmed properly can also cause ingrown toenails.
Some people are born with nails that are curved and grow downward. Others have toenails that are too large for their toes. Stubbing your toe or other injuries can also lead to an ingrown toenail.
There may be pain, redness and swelling around the nail.
An exam of the foot will show the following:
Tests or x-rays are usually not needed.
If you have diabetes, nerve damage in the leg or foot, poor blood circulation to your foot, or an infection around the nail, go to the doctor right away. Do not try to treat an ingrown nail at home.
Otherwise, to treat an ingrown nail at home:
When trimming your toenails:
Consider wearing sandals until the problem goes away. Over-the-counter medication that is applied to the ingrown toenail may help with the pain, but it does not treat the problem.
If this does not work and the ingrown nail gets worse, see your family doctor, a foot specialist (podiatrist) or a skin specialist (dermatologist).
If your ingrown nail does not heal or keeps coming back, your doctor may remove part of the nail:
Sometimes your doctor will use a chemical, electrical current, or another small surgical cut to destroy or remove the area from which a new nail may grow.
If the toe is infected, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics.
Treatment usually controls the infection and relieves pain. The condition is likely to return if you do not practice good foot care.
This condition may become serious in people with diabetes, poor circulation, and nerve problems (peripheral neuropathies).
In severe cases, the infection can spread through the toe and into the bone.
Call your health care provider if you:
If you have diabetes, nerve damage in the leg or foot, poor blood circulation to your foot, or an infection around the nail, your risk for complications is higher. If you have diabetes, see your health care provider.
Wear shoes that fit properly. Shoes that you wear every day should have plenty of room around your toes. Shoes that you wear for walking briskly or for running should also have plenty of room, but not be too loose.
When trimming your toenails:
Keep your feet clean and dry. People with diabetes should have routine foot exams and nail care.
Onychocryptosis; Unguis incarnatus; Nail avlusion; Matrix excision
Heidelbaugh JJ, Lee H. Management of the ingrown toenail. Am Fam Physician. 2009;79(4):303-8.
Ishikawa SN. Disorders of nails and skin. In: Canale ST, Beaty JH, eds. Campbell’s Operative Orthopaedics. Philadelphia, Pa.: Elsevier Mosby; 2012:chap 87.
Updated by: C. Benjamin Ma, MD, Assistant Professor, Chief, Sports Medicine and Shoulder Service, UCSF Department of Orthopaedic Surgery. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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