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Ingrown Toenail - Topic Overview

What is an ingrown toenail?

An ingrown toenail is a toenail that has grown into the skin instead of over it. This usually happens to the big toe, but it can also happen to other toes. An ingrown toenail can get infected. It may be painful, red, and swollen, and it may drain pus. See a picture of an ingrown toenailcamera.gif.

Anyone can get an ingrown toenail, but adults get them more than children do. People who have curved or thick nails are more likely to get an ingrown toenail. This is more common in older adults.

What causes an ingrown toenail?

An ingrown toenail can have a number of different causes. Cutting your toenail too short or rounding the edge of the nail can cause it to grow into the skin. Wearing shoes or socks that don't fit well can also cause an ingrown toenail. If your shoes are too tight, they might press the nail into the toe and cause it to grow into the skin.

You can get an ingrown toenail if you hurt your toe, such as stubbing it. This can cause the nail to grow inward. Repeating an activity that injuries the nail, such as kicking a soccer ball, can also cause an ingrown nail.

What are the symptoms?

The main symptom of an ingrown toenail is the pain from the nail growing into the skin instead of over it. If the ingrown toenail gets infected, it might be swollen or red, and it might drain pus. The area around the ingrown toenail is often painful.

How is an ingrown toenail diagnosed?

Your doctor will do a physical exam to diagnose an ingrown toenail. He or she will look at your toe where the nail has grown into the skin.

How is it treated?

You can try the following steps at home to relieve the pain caused by your ingrown toenail and help the nail to grow out naturally:

  • Soak your sore toe in warm water for 15 minutes 2 to 3 times each day.
  • Wedge a small piece of wet cottoncamera.gif, such as part of a cotton ball, under the corner of your ingrown nail. This will help lift the nail off of the skin.
  • Soak your toe and change the piece of cotton each day until the nail grows out and can be trimmed.
  • Do not use a sharp object like manicure scissors to dig under your nail, because the toe might get infected.
  • Do not try to use a needle to drain the pus from your toe. This could make the infection worse.
  • While your ingrown toenail is healing, wear comfortable shoes or sandals that do not press on your toe.

Use these home treatment steps for 3 days. If they do not help, you might need to see your doctor. Be sure to see a doctor if your toe gets infected. Your toe might be infected if it hurts more than it did before you tried the home treatment. Call your doctor if your toe is red, warm, swollen, or drains pus, or if there are red streaks leading from your toe.

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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: March 12, 2014
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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