Ingrown Toenail: Causes and Removal

An ingrown toenail is a medical condition wherein the toenail’s sides start growing in the flesh. Symptoms include swelling, redness, pain and in certain cases, infection. Ingrown toenails usually strike the big toe. Before we consider the treatments, let’s look at the possible indicators.

Ingrown Toenail Symptoms

The most common symptoms are the following:

  • Area around the toenail is swollen
  • Affected toenail is reddish
  • One or both sides of the toenail feels soft and painful
  • Blood flow is cut or reduced in the affected area
  • The affected tissue is infected
  • In severe cases, there is intense discomfort
  • The redness spreads and pus is discharged from the affected area

Ingrown Toenail Causes

The most common causes are:

  • Injured toenails
  • Uneven cutting of toenails
  • Those with curved toenails are more vulnerable to this condition

Complications can be avoided with proper treatment. Without treatment, the pain could worsen. Diabetics with ingrown toenails face even more possible complications as it could precipitate open sores and other foot injuries.

Homebased Treatments

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  • Get a container and fill it with water, as hot as your feet can take. Soak your feet in it for 15 minutes 3 to 4 times daily. This helps reduce the pain and swelling.
  • Put dental floss or cotton under the affected toenail. Put the dental floss or cotton on the toenail after each soaking.
  • Antibiotic creams can reduce the pain and discomfort. There are many OTC antibiotic treatments, but make sure to apply only as directed.
  • Wear comfortable footwear, open toed if possible. If you have to wear shoes for work, there should be wiggle room for your toes.
  • There are also pain relievers available OTC such as naproxen sodium, ibuprofen and acetaminophen. These can ease the pain, but do not take more than what your doctor has prescribed.

If none of those treatments work and the pain worsens, consult a doctor. Your doctor may perform any of the following methods.

  • Nail lifting: if the ingrown nail is painful with redness but without any discharge, your doctor may lift the edge of the nail and place a splint below it. The splint will is going to set the skin and nail apart, allowing the nail to grow over the edge of the skin. With this treatment you have to wash the affected toe every day.
  • Partial nail removal: if the ingrown toenail is panful and has pus discharge, partial nail removal may be performed. This requires trimming, so the affected toe will be numbed via an anesthetic.
  • Nail and tissue removal: this is an option if the ingrown toenail persists on the same toe. Surgical methods include laser or chemical, and your doctor will determine which one is most suitable.

Surgical treatments depend on the condition. For instance, it might include the removal of the nail corner or border, partial matrixectomy or full matrixectomy. A matrixectomy procedure involves destroying the cells that the nail grows in. There are many ways to do this, including electrically or chemically destroying these cells.

While surgery is effective, the procedure is only for those cases wherein the ingrown toenail is recurrent or chronic. If not, your doctor will prescribe other methods, and even homebased treatments like the one we mentioned here may be used.

Toenail Care

Once the ingrown toenail has been treated, keep the following in mind to repent recurrence.

  • Toenails should be cut straight across. There is no need to cut along the curve of your toes.
  • If you have a medical condition that constricts feet blood flow, consult a podiatrist for proper nail trimming.
  • Your toenails should be trimmed at medium length. Don’t trim them too short because shoe pressure will build up on your toes. The constant pressure could also lead to ingrown toenails.
  • Always wear proper fitting shoes.
  • Toe and foot injuries are common causes of ingrown toenails, so wear protective footwear. If your job puts you at risk of a foot injury, wear steel toed shoes.
  • Check your feet regularly especially if you’re diabetic.


Anyone can have an ingrown toenail, but some are more vulnerable than others:

  • Athletes are more likely to suffer from this condition, especially those that play basketball, tennis and football.
  • Those that wear shoes which are too big or too small.
  • Physical trauma and repeated pressure.
  • Those at risk include diabetics, those withy obesity problems, long toes, and congenital toenail deformity.
  • Those with hammertoes, bunions and other foot deformities are also vulnerable to this condition.
  • Abnormal gait
  • Poor foot hygiene
  • Other conditions that might put you at risk are edema of the lower extremities, hyperhidrosis, arthritis and nail fungal infection.

Dos and Don’ts

  • Do wear shoes that fit properly. The shoes should give your toes wiggle room.
  • Do keep your toes pressure free.
  • Do put on shoes that are proper for the occasion, i.e. sports shoes, work shoes etc.
  • Do not self-prescribe when faced with a serious case of ingrown toenail.
  • Don’t take more than the prescribed medication amount given by your doctor. If the condition doesn’t get better, inform your doctor.

​Frequently Asked Questions

Question: Are ingrown toenails dangerous?

​Answer: ​If left untreated, an ingrown toenail may infect the bone.

Question: I am diabetic and have an ingrown toenail. What should I do?

Answer​See a doctor immediately. An ingrown toenail might cut blood flow on the affected foot and lead to infection.

Question: Does ingrown toenail only affect the toe?

Answer​Though it usually affects the big toe, any toe can be affected.

Question: When should I see a doctor?

Answer​See a doctor if you’re diabetic or there are symptoms of infection like swelling, green or yellowish discharge and throbbing.

Question: ​Is there any way to prevent ingrown toenails?

Answer​Keep your toenails trimmed and don’t wear shoes that are too tight.


​Ingrown toenails can be uncomfortable, but as we have shown here there are a lot of ways to treat it. As long as you take care of your toes and use the treatments properly, the odds of infection are low.

Corey Feaster

I am Corey Feaster, Founder and Editor of feetstrap.com. I spend my major part of life researching footwear. Hope i can help you regarding footwear from our blog feetstrap. Stay with us and let us know what else do you want.

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