What Is an Ingrown Toenail?

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An ingrown toenail is when the side of the toenail grows into the skin next to it. It is a common condition affecting 20% of people who see their healthcare provider for foot problems.

An ingrown toenail often happens on the big toe. It can cause pain, swelling, and redness. Treatment depends on the severity of the ingrown toenail. Mild cases generally involve at-home remedies, such as foot soaks, but more severe cases may require antibiotics or surgery. People with diabetes who have an ingrown toenail are at greater risk for complications.

This article will cover ingrown toenail symptoms, causes, and treatment. It will also discuss how to prevent an ingrown toenail.

Toe pain

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Ingrown Toenail Symptoms

An ingrown toenail is caused by the nail growing into the skin. It can cause pain around the nail. Other common ingrown toenail symptoms include:

  • Redness
  • Skin swelling around the nail
  • Warmth in the area
  • Foul smell
  • Pus discharge

New skin can grow over the toenail and form a granuloma (small lump of immune cells). This area of the toe can bleed. It may also have pus discharge and a foul smell if bacteria is present.


An ingrown toenail is caused when the toenail edge pushes into the skin and keeps growing. The toenail can result in damage to the surrounding skin. Ingrown toenails causes include:

  • Toenails that are cut too short
  • Toenails cut with rounded edges
  • Shoes worn too tight
  • Sweaty feet
  • Having obesity
  • Foot and toe deformities or injuries
  • Ripping nails instead of trimming
  • Repetitive activities (like kicking a soccer ball)
  • Pincer nail deformity (when toenails that grow curved fashion in which it begins to curl)

Toenails should be cut straight across. Avoid rounding the nail. Keep toenails short to prevent nail injury.


A healthcare provider will diagnose an ingrown toenail by examining the nail. Diagnostic testing with an X-ray is not typically necessary.

If the ingrown toenail appears to be infected, a healthcare provider may order blood testing.


There are several treatments for an ingrown toenail. Choosing the right treatment will depend on how severe the ingrowth has become.

Anyone with poor circulation in their feet, such as people with diabetes, should contact their healthcare provider. They should not try to treat their ingrown toenail at home.

For mild ingrown toenails, soak the foot in warm water three to four times a day. Dry the foot thoroughly afterward and massage the skin around the ingrown toenail. Dampen a piece of dental floss or cotton with an antiseptic solution and place it under the toenail.

If the ingrown toenail is more severe and not treatable at home, your healthcare provider may refer you to a foot doctor, or podiatrist, who can determine the best treatment option for your nail.

Your healthcare provider may recommend antibiotics or, in some cases, a procedure where part of the toenail needs to be removed. This surgery is called a partial nail avulsion. It can take two to four months for the nail to grow back. Other treatment options include gutter splints or braces, which can help guide the nail grow to normally.

Wear open-toe shoes while your ingrown toenail heals and report any signs of infection to a healthcare provider.


There are a few simple ways to help prevent an ingrown toenail. Make sure that your shoes are not too tight and have plenty of room for the toes to move.

Before cutting toenails, soak them in warm water to soften them. You can also cut them after you take a shower or bath. Use a clean nail trimmer and cut the nail straight across. Do not round the edges. Avoid tearing or picking at toenails.

People with diabetes or other conditions that cause poor foot circulation should see their healthcare provider for regular foot exams.


An ingrown toenail is a condition in which the nail grows into the skin. It causes pain, redness, and swelling. If it's a mild ingrown toenail, then treatment involves soaking the foot and using a piece of cotton or dental floss to separate the nail from the skin.

If the ingrown toenail is severe, then it's important to seek help from a podiatrist or other healthcare provider. To prevent an ingrown toenail, avoid wearing shoes that are too tight and keep nails clean and trimmed straight across.

A Word From Verywell

When you have an ingrown toenail, it may be tempting to cut out the nail on your own. But this can make things worse and cause an infection. Don't cut out the ingrowth. If the area starts to show signs of an infection, contact a healthcare provider for treatment.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How do you fix an ingrown toenail?

    If the ingrown toenail is mild, then soak the foot in warm water. Dry the foot and place a piece of cotton or dental floss dampened with an antiseptic solution between the nail and skin. If the ingrown toenail is severe, contact a healthcare provider.

  • What causes ingrown toenails?

    An ingrown toenail may be caused by several things. Some of the more common causes are wearing tight shoes, foot or toenail injuries, and cutting the nail with curved edges.

4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG). Ingrown toenail: overview.

  2. MedlinePlus. Ingrown toenail.

  3. Nemours Children's Health. Ingrown toenails.

  4. Huang C, Huang R, Yu M, et al. Pincer nail deformity: clinical characteristics, causes, and managementsBioMed Research International. 2020;2020:1-15. doi:10.1155/2020/2939850

By Patty Weasler, RN, BSN
Patty is a registered nurse with over a decade of experience in pediatric critical care. Her passion is writing health and wellness content that anyone can understand and use.