Reference Library

Ingrown toenails

Ingrown nails are nails whose corners or sides dig painfully into the soft tissue of the nail groove leading the irritation, redness, and swelling. Usually toenails grow straight up. Sometimes one or both corners curve and grow into the flesh. The big toe is the most common location for this condition.


The following may cause ingrown toenails:

  • Improperly trimmed toenails
  • Heredity
  • Shoe pressure (crowding of the toes)
  • Repeated trauma to the feet from normal activities


The follow symptoms may be present with ingrown toenails:

  • Pain
  • Redness and swelling
  • Drainage
  • Odor

If you suspect an infection due to an ingrown toenail, immerse the foot in a warm, saltwater soak or a basin of soapy water, then apply an antiseptic and bandage to the affected area.

People with diabetes, peripheral vascular disease or other circulatory disorders should seek podiatric care. Do-it-yourself treatments, including trying to remove any part of an infected nail or using over-the-counter medications, should be avoided. Your podiatrist, who can diagnose and prescribe medications and other appropriate treatments, should evaluate nail problems.

You should see a podiatrist if any excessive redness or drainage is present around the toenail. If a short trial of home treatment has not resulted in improvement of the situation, you should see your podiatrist. If you have diabetes or poor circulation, you should seek treatment at the first signs of an ingrown toenail to avoid more severe complications.

Diagnosis and treatment

A podiatrist will remove the ingrown portion of the nail and may prescribe medication to treat the infection. If ingrown nails are a problem, your podiatrist can perform a procedure to permanently remove and prevent regrowth of the ingrown toenail. Chemical, laser, or other methods remove the corner of the nail that is ingrown, along with the matrix or root of that nail.


  • Trim your toenails properly – cut straight across, not longer than the tip of the toes. Do not dig into the corners, and only gently round the corners with a nail file.
  • Use toenail clippers.
  • Avoid shoes that are pointed or have a narrow toe box.
  • Never rip or tear the edges of your toenails.

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