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How to tell if a toenail is ingrown: Ingrown toenails – Symptoms and causes


Ingrown Toenails – American Family Physician

Please note: This information was current at the time of publication. But medical information is always changing, and some information given here may be out of date. For regularly updated information on a variety of health topics, please visit familydoctor.org, the AAFP patient education website.

Information from Your Family Doctor


Am Fam Physician. 2009 Feb 15;79(4):311-312.

See related article on ingrown toenails.

What is an ingrown toenail?

An ingrown toenail is when the edge of your toenail curves down and pokes into the skin.

Who gets ingrown toenails?

Anyone can get them, but teenagers and older people get them more often. Teenagers get them because their feet sweat more, which can cause the skin and nails to become soft. Soft nails split easier. Pieces that split can easily puncture the skin. Older people get them because they have trouble caring for their feet.

Ingrown toenails also can happen to people who try to “round off ” the corners of their toenails with a nail file. Trauma (for example, stubbing your toe, running, or kicking objects) can also cause them. Ingrown toenails sometimes run in families.

How do I know if I have one?

You may have pain or swelling. The skin around the toenail can also get red. As the ingrown toenail gets worse, the pain and redness get worse. Sometimes, it becomes infected. It may bleed or have pus (see drawing). An ingrown toenail may also limit the activities you do every day, like sports or walking.

How are they treated?

Most ingrown toenails can be treated by soaking the foot in warm, soapy water and applying a topical antibiotic ointment, such as polymyxin/neomycin (one brand: Neosporin). Your doctor can also put cotton wisps, dental floss, or splints under the edge of the ingrown toenail between the toenail and the skin. You should not try to cut or remove the ingrown part of the nail yourself.

Tell your doctor if you have a lot of pain or think it may be infected. You may need surgery to remove the ingrown part of the nail or the whole nail. Your doctor may also destroy the nail bed so that the ingrown toenail does not come back. Be sure to tell your doctor if you may be pregnant because some chemicals used to destroy the nail bed should not be used in women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.

How do I care for my toe after surgery?

You should rest and elevate your foot for the first 12 to 24 hours after surgery. If your toe is sore, some medicines (for example, acetaminophen [one brand: Tylenol] or ibuprofen [one brand: Motrin]) may help. Two days after surgery, you should begin soaking your toe in warm, soapy water three or four times a day. Then, you should put on an antibiotic ointment and a clean bandage. You should continue to do this process for one or two weeks after surgery. Tell your doctor if you still have pain, redness, or pus draining from the toe. These are signs that the infection has gotten worse. In this case, you may need to take antibiotics.

How can I prevent ingrown toenails?

When trimming your toenails, cut the nail in a straight line. Do not round off the corners. Be sure to wear shoes that fit correctly.

Gary M. Kazmer, DPM: Podiatrist

Some 20% of people who see a doctor for foot issues are dealing with an ingrown toenail, according to federal statistics. An ingrown toenail can be annoying, painful and a nuisance you simply want to be rid of, but in most cases it’s a harmless condition that can be treated easily.

Usually you can take care of the ingrown toenail by yourself using simple home remedies and over-the-counter medications, but in some cases, complications may require the care of an expert podiatrist, like Gary M. Kazmer, DPM, at his three Kazmer Foot & Ankle Centers here in Illinois.

Obvious signs of an ingrown toenail

It’s usually the pain and tenderness of your toe around your nail that tells you something is wrong. An ingrown toenail usually develops in your big toe, and when you look at the nail, you’ll notice:

  • Skin around the nail becoming hard, swollen and/or tender to the touch
  • Pain when pressure is placed on the toe, as from a shoe or sock
  • Fluid building up around the toe

If you spot these symptoms, you should book an appointment with Dr. Kazmer to establish the causes of the ingrown toenail, and to ensure you get the right treatment for it.

In some cases, the ingrown toenail can cause an infection, a serious problem that needs urgent medical care. Symptoms of this include:

  • Bleeding
  • Pain
  • Pus oozing from the nail
  • Red, swollen skin
  • Skin overgrowing around the nail

If you’re experiencing any of these signs, make sure you contact Kazmer Foot & Ankle Centers immediately for an appointment to stop the infection from spreading and prevent other potential complications from developing.

Timely treatment prevents bigger problems, like a bone infection

It can be hard to ignore a painful toe, especially when you have to squeeze your feet into shoes that are too tight, reminding you with each step that you have a problem. But even if you can tolerate the discomfort, an infection is no minor concern and can happen when that ingrown toenail is left untreated for too long.

You have a type of bacteria living on your skin all the time called Staphylococcus aureus. Normally this doesn’t cause any problems, but when the skin around your toe gets compromised, the bacteria can penetrate the skin, soft tissues and even into the bone.

An infection in your toenail can cause open sores and ulcers, and restrict blood flow to the toe, but it can also lead to an infection of the bone itself. A bone infection, osteomyelitis, can cause some very serious symptoms including fatigue, fever and nausea, while damaging the bone enough to risk permanent loss of movement.

If the infection goes untreated for too long, sepsis can develop, possibly leading to amputation and other life-changing consequences.

Who has higher risks of complications from ingrown toenails?

If you have diabetes, poor circulation or neuropathy of the feet causing numbness, you may be at greater risk of an infected ingrown toenail. That’s because you’re less likely to be able to feel the pain and discomfort caused by the ingrown toenail until its later stages, if even then. In fact, you might not be aware that there’s an infection until you spot the signs like bleeding, pus and swelling.

The good news is that there are a range of treatments available for all stages of an ingrown toenail, offered with the expertise you’d expect from Dr. Kazmer. With over 24 years’ experience behind him, this board-certified podiatrist will examine your feet, make a personalized recommendation for treating your ingrown toenail, and guide you through any preventive measures to stop the condition from happening again.

To book your consultation with Dr. Kazmer today, simply book online for your choice of the Barrington, Chicago or Elgin office.

Washington Foot & Ankle Sports Medicine: Podiatry

Ingrown toenails are common. Because of this, you may be tempted to see if one will go away on its own. This, however, wouldn’t be the wise thing to do. There are several reasons why you should seek medical attention for an ingrown toenail, especially if you have diabetes.

In this blog, the providers at Washington Foot & Ankle Sports Medicine explain why letting an ingrown toenail go untreated can be dangerous.

Causes of ingrown toenails

An ingrown toenail occurs when the edge of a toenail begins to grow into the soft tissue around it. This can lead to redness, swelling, oozing puss, and infection. Ingrown toenails can develop for several reasons, including the following:

Poor trimming techniques

One of the most common causes of ingrown toenails is improper nail trimming techniques. You should always trim your nails straight across and make sure not to round them at the edges.

Tight shoes

Wearing shoes that are too tight can put too much pressure on your toes. Try to wear shoes with a wide toe box.

Sweaty feet

Having exceptionally sweaty feet can lead to ingrown toenails. In general, try to keep your feet clean and dry as much as possible.


Engaging in certain sports, such as running and soccer, may increase your risk of developing ingrown toenails. Wear the appropriate shoes for your sport and try to protect your feet as much as possible.

In addition, there can be a genetic component to ingrown toenails. If one of your parents has trouble with ingrown toenails, you may have a higher risk of developing them.

Dangers of not treating ingrown toenails

The biggest risk of an ingrown toenail is that it may become infected. An infection can lead to a condition called gangrene, in which tissue dies due to a lack of blood supply. In severe cases, gangrene can even lead to amputation.

Fortunately, gangrene is not very common. However, ingrown toenails can lead to a number of more common issues. One potential problem is a slow-healing wound. Because feet don’t usually get much air exposure, this can lead to a wound not healing as fast as it should.

This problem can be compounded if you have diabetes. Diabetes can lead to poor circulation in the feet, and this means the area may not get the resources it needs to heal well. Furthermore, if an infection is not treated, it can spread to other parts of the body.

Treating ingrown toenails

If you get an ingrown toenail, your podiatrist at Washington Foot & Ankle Sports Medicine can treat it quickly and effectively. Your podiatrist may address your condition with a splint, laser treatment, or surgery, among other options.

Leaving an ingrown toenail untreated can lead to serious outcomes. If you have signs of an ingrown toenail, such as swelling or redness, we can give your toe a thorough evaluation and give you the treatment you need. To learn more, book an appointment online or over the phone with Washington Foot & Ankle Sports Medicine today.

4 Signs that you have and ingrown toenail and what to do

How do you know that you have an ingrown toenail?

1. If you notice redness, pain and off-course swelling at the margins of your toenails; then the chances are high that you’re looking at an ingrown toenail.  

2. Early on during development: You could notice redness, some amount of pain and mild swelling. You might not have any pus present, but the skin is warm when you touch it. There’s no fever present either.  

3. As development increases: Extra skin and tissue grow around the sharp point of the nail. A yellowish drainage may start but this is your body reacting to the irritation of the skin. You might not necessarily have an infection. 

4. Sometimes, an infection happens, and the swelling could become worse in this case. There may be a white or yellow pus in the inflamed area. Sometimes, a fever could develop, but this is not common at all.


What will happen if you ignore an ingrown toenail?

An infection could worsen, and an abscess could form at the inflamed area.