Understanding Ingrown Toenails

Ingrown nails grow under the skin. They may cause pain at the tip of the toe or all the way to the base of the toe. The pain is often worse while walking. An ingrown nail may also lead to infection, inflammation, or a more serious condition. If it’s infected, you might see fluid (pus) or redness.

Closeup of toe with ingrown toenail.

How is an ingrown toenail diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will examine your toe and may press the painful area. You may have blood tests, cultures, or X-rays if the provider thinks there may be other problems.

Treatment for ingrown toenails

If the nail isn’t infected, your healthcare provider may trim the corner of it to help relieve your symptoms. They may need to remove 1 side of your nail back to the cuticle. The base of the nail may then be treated with a chemical to keep the ingrown part from growing back.

Severe infections or ingrown nails may need antibiotics. They may need temporary or permanent removal of part or all of the nail. To prevent pain, a local anesthetic may be used in these procedures. This treatment may be done at your healthcare provider's office or at a hospital. Your healthcare provider will give you instructions on cleaning and treating the area.

Preventing ingrown toenails

Many nail problems can be prevented by wearing the right shoes and trimming your nails properly. To help prevent infection, keep your feet clean and dry. If you have diabetes, talk with your healthcare provider before doing any foot self-care.

  • The right shoes. Get your feet measured. Your shoe size may change as you age. Wear shoes that are supportive and roomy enough for your toes to wiggle. Look for shoes made of natural materials such as leather. Natural materials let air get to your feet.

  • Correct trimming. To prevent problems, trim your toenails straight across. Don't cut down into the corners. If you can’t trim your own nails, ask your healthcare provider to do it for you.

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