Causes and Treatment of an Ingrown Toenail

ingrown toenail
Alberto Pomares / Getty Images

An ingrown toenail is a condition that is caused by abnormal growth of both the toenail and the surrounding tissues. When the toenail grows into the surrounding tissue, a painful toe is the result. The irritation from the toenail causes swelling of the tissues, and further inflammation.

The cause of an ingrown toenail is usually due to shoes that place excessive pressure on the toes, or because of trimming the toenail too short.

These situations can cause the toe to grow into the surrounding tissue.

Treatment of an Ingrown Toenail

When an ingrown toenail occurs, treatment usually starts with some simple steps, but may be more aggressive if simple treatments do not provide relief. Treating an ingrown toenail conservatively consists of removing pressure from the toe by wearing appropriate footwear, soaking the toe, and not trimming the affected toenail. By not trimming the nail, you will allow it to grow forward properly.

More aggressive surgical treatment is needed when the conservative treatment fails to provide relief, or if the ingrown toenail comes back repeatedly. Depending on the severity of the condition, surgical treatment may consist of removal of part of the nail, up to removal of the entire nail. Antibiotic treatment may also be necessary if the area of inflammation becomes infected. Toenail removal can either be done with sedation, or with local anesthesia.

Usually, most of the pain is relieved once the nail is removed from the inflamed tissue.

If there is an infection caused by the ingrown toenail, then removal of the at least part of the nail is usually necessary. This allows the infection to drain out of the confined space under the nail, and allows the antibiotics to work more effectively.

Recurrent Ingrown Nails

In some patients, ingrown toenails, and infections due to this problem, can become recurring. If ingrown toenails become a recurring problem, your doctor may recommend procedure to remove the nail and prevent the nail from growing back. This procedure is considered in patients who continue to have ingrown toenails despite treatment.


Rounding C, Bloomfield S. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2005 Apr 18;(2):CD001541.

Continue Reading