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Understanding Ingrown Toenails

An ingrown nail is the result of a nail growing into the skin that surrounds it. This often occurs at either edge of the big toe. Ingrown nails may be caused by improper trimming, inherited nail deformities, injuries, fungal infections, or pressure.

Closeup of big toe with ingrown nail causing swelling.


Ingrown nails 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 pus or redness.


To determine the extent of your problem, your doctor examines and possibly presses the painful area. If other problems are suspected, blood tests, cultures, or X-rays may be done as well.


If the nail isn’t infected, your doctor may trim the corner of it to help relieve your symptoms. He or she may need to remove one 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 require antibiotics and temporary or permanent removal of a portion of the nail. To prevent pain, a local anesthetic may be used in these procedures. This treatment is usually done at your doctor's office.


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

  • The right shoes: Get your feet measured (your 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, which allow your feet to breathe.

  • Proper trimming: To avoid problems, trim your toenails straight across without cutting down into the corners. If you can’t trim your own nails, ask your podiatrist to do so for you.


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