Overview

Ingrown toenails are a common condition in which the corner or side of a toenail grows into the soft flesh. The result is pain, inflamed skin, swelling and, sometimes, an infection. Ingrown toenails usually affect the big toe.

Often you can take care of ingrown toenails on your own. If the pain is severe or spreading, your health care provider can take steps to relieve your discomfort and help you avoid complications of ingrown toenails.

If you have diabetes or another condition that causes poor blood flow to your feet, you're at greater risk of complications of ingrown toenails.

Symptoms

Ingrown toenail symptoms include:

  • Pain and tenderness
  • Inflamed skin
  • Swelling
  • Infection

When to see a doctor

See your health care provider if you:

  • Experience severe discomfort in a toe, pus or inflamed skin that seems to be spreading
  • Have diabetes or another condition that causes poor blood flow to the feet and you have a foot sore or infection

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Causes

Causes of ingrown toenails include:

  • Wearing shoes that crowd the toenails
  • Cutting toenails too short or not straight across
  • Injuring a toenail
  • Having very curved toenails
  • Nail infections
  • Certain medical conditions

Risk factors

Factors that increase your risk of ingrown toenails include:

  • Being an adolescent, when feet tend to perspire more, which softens the nail and skin
  • Having nail care habits that encourage the nail to grow into the skin, such as cutting the nails too short or rounding the corners
  • Having a reduced ability to care for your nails
  • Wearing shoes that constrict the toes
  • Participating in activities, such as running and kicking, that put your toes at risk of injury
  • Having a condition, such as diabetes, that causes poor blood flow

Complications

Complications can be especially severe if you have diabetes, which can cause poor blood flow and damaged nerves in the feet. So a minor foot injury — a cut, scrape, corn, callus or ingrown toenail — may not heal properly and become infected.

Prevention

To help prevent an ingrown toenail:

  • Trim your toenails straight across. Don't curve your nails to match the shape of the front of your toe. If you get a pedicure, ask the person doing it to trim your nails straight across. If you have a condition that causes poor blood flow to the feet and you can't trim your nails, see a podiatrist regularly to have your nails trimmed.
  • Keep toenails at a moderate length. Trim toenails so they're even with the tips of your toes. If you trim your toenails too short, the pressure from your shoes on your toes may direct a nail to grow into the tissue.
  • Wear shoes that fit properly. Shoes that place too much pressure on your toes or pinch them may cause a nail to grow into surrounding tissue. If you have nerve damage to the feet, you may not be able to sense if your shoes fit too tightly.
  • Wear protective footwear. If your activities put you at risk of injuring your toes, wear protective footwear, such as steel-toed shoes.
  • Check your feet. If you have diabetes, check your feet daily for signs of ingrown toenails or other foot problems.

Feb. 08, 2022
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