An ingrown toenail develops when the sides of the toenail grow into the surrounding skin.

The nail curls and pierces the skin, which becomes red, swollen and tender. The toe can also be painful when pressure is placed on it.

The big toe is most likely to be affected, either on one or on both sides.

The medical name for an ingrown toenail is onychocryptosis.

What causes ingrown toenails?

There are a number of possible causes of an ingrown toenail including:

  • incorrectly cut toenails
  • tight-fitting shoes, socks or tights
  • excessive sweating or poor foot hygiene
  • injury
  • nail infections
  • natural shape of the toenail

Treating ingrown toenails

There are number of things you can do yourself to treat mild ingrown toenails and prevent them from getting worse, including:

  • practise good foot hygiene by taking care of your feet and washing them regularly using soap and water
  • trim the nail straight across to help prevent it continuing to dig into the surrounding skin
  • gently push the skin away from the nail using a cotton bud (this may be easier after using a small amount of olive oil to soften the skin)
  • wear comfortable shoes that are not too tight and provide space around your toes
  • painkillers, such as paracetamol, can be used to help relieve any pain (children under the age of 16 should not take aspirin)

Surgery may be recommended in cases where an ingrown toenail is more severe. This may involve either removing a section of the affected toenail or removing the whole nail.

Read more about treating an ingrown toenail.

Left untreated, an ingrown toenail can cause the toe to become infected.

When to visit your Foot health professional

If your ingrown toenail persists despite carrying out self care treatments, see your FHP for advice.

Depending on how severe your ingrown toenail is, surgery might be recommended.  

It is very important you visit your Podiatrist if you have diabetes and an ingrown toenail. Having diabetes could affect the healing of your toenail, particularly if your diabetes is poorly controlled.

Read more about foot care and diabetes.

Preventing ingrown toenails

There are a number of measures you can take to keep your feet healthy and prevent problems developing.

For example, cut your toenails straight across, not at an angle or down the edges. Always maintain good standards of foot hygiene, including washing your feet regularly and drying them thoroughly. It is also important that your footwear fits properly and is comfortable.