What is an Ingrown Toenail?

Skin That Grows Over One Or Both Sides Of The Toenail

Close-up of woman with band aid on toe after hiking
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An ingrown toenail is when the skin on one or both sides of the nail grows over the edges of the nail, or when a nail grows into the skin. This creates an irritation of the skin, swelling, infection and, warmth in the toe. Whether or not there is a break in the skin of the toe, bacteria may enter causing an infection. This is often accompanied by drainage and an odor.

Causes of an Ingrown Toenail

There are several factors that can lead to an ingrown toenail.

  • A family history of ingrown toenails
  • Socks or shoes that are the incorrect size  
  • Fungal infections
  • Trauma to the nail
  • Cutting the toenails too short

Certain medical conditions such as lung disease, advancing age, and poor circulation in the extremities due to blocked blood vessels can cause nails to curve. Other less common factors include bone spurs under the nail, trauma, multiple infections, and drug interactions.

Symptoms of an Ingrown Toenail

Your ingrown toenail may be hard, swollen and tender. Later on it may become infected and red. You may also feel some pain. Sometimes some pus may be seen draining from the area.

Diagnosis of an Ingrown Toenail

Ingrown toenails are diagnosed by their appearance. If there is pus present, a culture to determine the bacteria involved may be performed. An X-ray may be performed to rule out an infection of the bone or space between the joints.

Treatment of an Ingrown Toenail

Treatment for an ingrown toenail can be performed at home unless there is a suspicion of an infection or if you have a medical condition, such as diabetes, nerve damage, or poor circulation.

If you do not have an infection or a medical condition, you can begin treating your ingrown toenail by soaking your foot in an Epsom’s salt solution using room-temperature water. After soaking your foot, gently massage the side of your nail to reduce inflammation. Do not cut your nail. Keep your feet dry and wear comfortable shoes with enough room for your toes.

You may want to wear sandals until your condition clears.

If you do have an infection or medication condition, your doctor may prescribe an oral antibiotic to resolve your infections. Your doctor may ease the pain of your ingrown toenail by removing the nail and applying a light bandage to protect your toe. You can resume normal activities the next day. If you were prescribed antibiotics, take all the medication even if your symptoms have improved.

Preventing Ingrown Toenails

To prevent an ingrown toenail, make sure that when you trim your toenails, you trim them in a straight line. Don’t cut them too short. And, don’t put a notch in your nail when you cut them. Wear shoes that fit and avoid shoes that are loose fitting because they put pressure on your toes. Protect your feet from injury and keep them clean and dry at all times.


  • Medline Plus
  • Mayo clinic
  • Dr. Scholl’s
  • The Nemours Foundation
  • American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons
  • American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
  • American Orthopaedic Foot and Ankle Society
  • American Podiatric Medical Association

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