Ingrown toenail

An ingrown toenail occurs when one or both of the sides of the toenail grow into the surrounding skin. This can cause pain, swelling and infection. Treatment ranges from antibiotics for infection to minor surgery to remove nail and prevent ongoing problems.

What causes ingrown toenails?

Some people are more prone to developing ingrown toenails than others. However, there are some common causes to avoid if possible, these include: 

  • badly cut toenails – avoid cutting your toenails too short, or cutting into the corners. This can break the natural skin barrier (increasing risk of infection) and allows the skin to fold over your nail edge and the nail to grow into it. 
  • increased pressure from tight shoes, socks or tights 
  • injuries– ingrown toenails can appear after stubbing your toe
  • sweaty feet – this can make the skin softer and easier for the nail to embed into it
  • genetics and natural toenail shape – toenails that are more curved or fan-shaped are more likely to press into the sides.

Symptoms of an ingrown toenail

Typical symptoms include: 

  • red, painful nail edge of the big toe (other toes can be affected but mostly the big toe) 
  • pain when wearing shoes due to pressure on the toe
  • bleeding, fluid or pus leaking from the affected area
  • a raised area along the nail edge from an overgrowth of skin (hypertrophy) 

Preventing and treating ingrown toenails

In the early stages, the tips for preventing an ingrown toenail are similar to what you can do to treat it.

  • Take care when cutting your toenails. Cut straight across, not too short and do NOT cut into the corners.
  • Wear comfortable, well-fitting shoes or sandals.
  • Avoid tight socks or tights and change every day. 
  • Wash your feet every day, dry well and apply moisturiser to dry skin.
  • After a shower or bath, use a cotton bud to gently push the skin away from the nail edge. 

If not improving:

  • If pain, redness or swelling increases, see your local podiatrist for advice. 
  • If very painful or signs of infection (increased redness, bleeding, discharge or pus), see your doctor or nurse as you may need antibiotics. 
  • Surgery may be needed. There are a range of options from partial to total nail removal. 
  • Read more about corrective nail surgery from the NHS Choices website.

Learn more

Find a local podiatrist Podiatry NZ
Ingrown toenails Podiatry NZ
Ingrown toenails overview NHS Choices, UK

Credits: Editorial team.