An ingrown toenail is a common condition that usually affects your big toe. It can cause pain and discomfort, and become infected. You can often take care of an ingrown toenail yourself but you may need to see a doctor or podiatrist – especially if you have diabetes or other foot problems.
What is an ingrown toenail?
An ingrown toenail occurs when the side of the nail curls down and grows into the skin around the nail.
Any toe can be affected but it commonly occurs in the big toe.
An ingrown toenail can become painful and inflamed (tender, red and swollen).
Sometimes, it can become infected, which, if left untreated, can spread and infect the underlying bone.
What causes ingrown toenails?
You can get an ingrown toenail if you:
- have tight fitting shoes, socks, or tights that crowd your toes, putting pressure on your toenails
- don't cut your toenails properly - for example too short or not straight across
- injure your toe, for example by stubbing it
- pick or tear the corners of your toenails
- have sweaty feet, making your skin soft and easier for toenails to dig in
- have toenails with naturally curved edges or that are fan-shaped.
Ingrown toenail treatments
If you have diabetes, nerve damage in your leg or foot, poor blood circulation to your foot or an infection around the nail, see your doctor or podiatrist (a trained therapist who diagnoses and treats foot conditions) immediately.
Otherwise, try this:
- soak your feet in warm water for 15 to 20 minutes, three or four times a day
- then use a cotton bud to gently push away the skin from the nail
- repeat each day for a few weeks, allowing the nail to grow
- as the end of the nail grows forward, push a tiny piece of cotton wool or dental floss under it to help the nail grow over the skin and not grow into it. Change the cotton wool or dental floss each time you soak your foot.
If that doesn’t work and your ingrown toenail persists, see your doctor or podiatrist. They may recommend ingrown toenail surgery to remove part or all of the nail.
Preventing ingrown toenails
To help prevent an ingrown toenail:
- wear shoes that fit properly
- keep your feet clean and dry
- trim your nails properly – briefly soak your foot in warm water before trimming, and make sure you cut straight across, without tapering or rounding the corners or cutting them too short.
People with diabetes or persistent foot problems should see a podiatrist regularly for routine foot checks and nail care.
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Last reviewed: August 2017