Ingrown Toenails

An ingrown toenail is when the corner of your toenail grows into your skin. It’s a common condition that happens frequently when you cut your toenails by tapering around the corners. Ingrown toenails usually aren’t serious and you can typically treat them at home. If you have diabetes or you think you have an infection, see a healthcare provider.


Redness, swelling and pus coming from your toe are signs of an ingrown toenail infection.
Signs of an ingrown toenail infection include pain, redness, swelling and pus coming from your toe.

What is an ingrown toenail?

An ingrown toenail is a foot condition that develops when the corner of your toenail grows down into your skin. It usually affects your big toe, but it can affect any of your toes.

The condition often happens when people cut their toenails by rounding (tapering) the corner of their nails. If the toenail curves with the shape of your toe, it can grow into your skin. Ingrown toenails are common and don’t usually pose a health risk to healthy people.

Who is likely to have an ingrown toenail?

Anyone can get an ingrown toenail. People at a higher risk include adolescents, athletes and people who have:

How common are ingrown toenails?

Ingrown toenails are a common foot problem. Two out of every 10 people who see their healthcare provider for a foot issue go in for this condition.


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Symptoms and Causes

What causes ingrown toenails?

Ingrown toenails can have many causes. These may include:

  • Incorrectly cut toenails. If you cut your toenail too short or rounded, the nail may grow into your skin.
  • Improperly fitting shoes.
  • Tearing the corner of your nail.
  • Toe trauma, such as banging your toe or getting stepped on.
  • Your toe shape. For instance, if your nail is larger comparatively with your toe, or the surrounding tissue of the nail border naturally grows around your nail.

What does an ingrown toenail look like?

An ingrown toenail grows into the skin around your nail bed. You may see redness and swelling around that area of your toe.


What are the symptoms of an infected ingrown toenail?

A mild ingrown toenail can feel hard and swollen. If the nail grows into your skin, or the skin grows over your nail edge, bacteria can enter. The nail may become infected. Infected ingrown toenail symptoms may include:

  • Liquid or pus coming out of your toe.
  • Pain.
  • Redness or darkening of the area.
  • Swelling.
  • Toe feeling warm or hot.

What are the complications of ingrown toenails?

This foot condition usually doesn’t cause any complications in healthy people. You may develop an infection around your nail or scarring of your nail fold. In rare, chronic cases, an ingrown toenail infection can spread through your toe and into your bone.


Diagnosis and Tests

How is an ingrown toenail diagnosed?

You can often diagnose the condition yourself, based on your symptoms and how your toe looks and feels.

Your healthcare provider (which may be your regular provider or a foot specialist called a podiatrist) will likely diagnose an ingrown toenail by inspecting it. They’ll examine the skin at the edge of your nail. They’ll diagnose you with this foot condition if the skin is:

  • Growing over your nail.
  • Swollen, tender, warm and red or darker in color.
  • Painful to light touch.
  • Looks different than your other toes.

What tests might I have for an ingrown toenail?

You typically don’t need any tests or X-rays to diagnose an ingrown toenail. In rare cases, when your toenail is severely infected, your healthcare provider might take a sample of the discharge or nail itself. They’ll run a bacteria culture test or sometimes a fungal culture to identify what’s causing the infection. You may need X-rays for more serious infections.

Management and Treatment

Ingrown toenail self-care

Ingrown toenail home treatment includes several simple steps. These steps can help manage the infection and prevent further ingrown toenail pain.

  • Soak your foot in warm water mixed with Epsom salt or soapy, sudsy water twice daily.
  • Keep your foot dry the rest of the time.
  • Gently lift the edge of your nail. Place a small piece of cotton between the nail and your skin. You can also use dental floss under the ingrown toenail. Change the cotton or floss every day. This will help your nail grow above the edge of your skin.
  • Use an antibiotic cream and a bandage.
  • Wear roomy shoes or sandals.
  • Use pain relievers such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen, if needed.

How to remove an ingrown toenail

If you have signs of infection or a severe ingrown toenail, don’t attempt to cut it yourself. If you cut the nail, the condition may get worse. If symptoms aren’t getting better with home remedies for an ingrown toenail, see a healthcare provider.

Do I need a healthcare provider to treat an ingrown toenail?

If your symptoms haven’t improved within a few days, or the nail looks worse, call your healthcare provider.

You should also see your provider as soon as possible if you develop an ingrown toenail and you have:

  • Diabetes.
  • Severe nerve damage.
  • Poor blood circulation.
  • A nail infection.

How to fix an ingrown toenail

Most of the time, healthcare providers can treat mild ingrown toenails using the same techniques you would at home. But they use sterile and more professional instrumentation. This foot condition usually heals without surgery.

In severe cases, your healthcare provider may need to remove part of your nail surgically through a procedure called nail avulsion. Ingrown toenail surgery keeps the edge of your nail from growing inward and cutting into your skin.

During a partial or complete nail avulsion, your provider will inject a numbing medicine (anesthetic) into your toe. Then, they’ll cut away part or all of your toenail. It can take a few months for your nail to regrow. If the condition keeps occurring, your provider can perform permanent ingrown toenail removal with the assistance of a chemical to kill the nail root.


How to prevent ingrown toenails

You can take these steps to prevent an ingrown toenail:

  • Soak your nails in warm water before cutting them. Or cut your nails after a shower or bath.
  • Clean your nail trimmer before using it.
  • Don’t tear or rip your nails.
  • Trim your toenails across the top. Don’t round the corners.
  • Wear shoes that fit correctly. They shouldn’t be too loose or too tight around your toes.
  • Avoid repetitive trauma to the sides of your nails.
  • If you have diabetes, follow all foot care recommendations from your healthcare provider. Don’t be hesitant about seeking medical help.

Outlook / Prognosis

What is the outlook for someone with an ingrown toenail?

Most of the time, this foot condition isn’t a serious health problem. Ingrown toenail treatment usually works. Your ingrown toenail won’t grow back if you practice good foot care.

You may need regular foot care exams if you have a condition that causes foot problems, such as nerve damage or diabetes.

Living With

When should I see my healthcare provider about an ingrown toenail?

See your healthcare provider for an ingrown toenail if you have:

  • Diabetes with complications.
  • Signs of an infection (pus or liquid drainage, extreme pain or redness).
  • Poor circulation.

You should also see your provider if you’ve tried topical antibiotic ointment, soaking and self-care but your toe still hurts.

What should I ask my healthcare provider?

If you have an ingrown toenail, ask your provider:

  • Is the nail infected?
  • How can I best treat it?
  • Do I need surgery?
  • How can I keep it from coming back?
  • Do I need medication?
  • How should I cut my nails to avoid this condition?

A note from Cleveland Clinic

An ingrown toenail is annoying and painful but very treatable. Often, soaking your nail will improve symptoms within a few days. If it doesn’t get better, see your healthcare provider. They’ll show you how to treat an ingrown toenail. To prevent this condition, wear roomy shoes and cut your nails straight across, rather than tapering them to the shape of your toe.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed on 08/07/2023.

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