Published by Bupa's Health Information Team, May 2011.
This factsheet is for people who have an ingrown toenail, or who would like information about it.
An ingrown toenail develops when the edge of the nail grows down and cuts into the surrounding skin.
Ingrown toenails can develop on just one or both sides of your toe. Your big toes are most likely to be affected. They are common among teenagers and young adults, but you can get an ingrown toenail at any age.
To begin with you may not get any symptoms. The skin surrounding your toenail may become hard, swollen or tender. Eventually your ingrown toenail may become painful, especially if you put pressure on the area. It may feel warm, and become red and swollen.
You probably won’t need to see your GP if you think you have an ingrown toenail. However, if your symptoms get worse and aren’t helped by self-help measures or over-the-counter painkillers, see your GP for advice.
It’s possible your ingrown toenail may become infected. Your symptoms may get worse and the area may:
The infection may spread to the rest of your toe if it isn’t treated. See your GP if you think your ingrown toenail may be infected.
There are several things that can cause, or contribute to, an ingrown toenail.
Your GP will look at your nail and the skin around it. He or she may refer you to a podiatrist (a health professional who specialises in conditions that affect the feet).
Soak your foot in warm water three or four times a day. If your ingrown toenail isn’t too painful, gently lift the edge of the nail away from your skin and place a small piece of cotton wool underneath it. The cotton wool will force your nail to grow over your skin rather than into it. Replace the cotton wool every day after soaking in water until the redness and swelling has gone down.
It’s important to wear comfortable shoes with enough space for your toes so you don’t make your ingrown toenail worse.
If your ingrown toenail is causing you pain, over-the-counter painkillers such as ibuprofen or paracetamol may help. Always read the patient information leaflet that comes with your medicine and if you have any questions, ask your pharmacist for advice.
If your ingrown toenail is causing you a lot of pain, your GP or podiatrist may recommend you have part, or all, of your toenail removed. Most people will have the procedure under local anaesthesia. This completely blocks pain from the area and you will stay awake during the procedure.
Your toe will be cleaned with antiseptic and the ingrown section of the nail is cut away to create a new, straight nail edge. Sometimes the whole nail is removed if it has become thick or deformed.
Your nail bed (the cells from which your nail starts growing) can be surgically removed or destroyed using a chemical called phenol. This stops the edge of a new nail from re-growing. Your toenail may be narrower when it grows back.
After your operation, your toe will be covered with a dressing. You will be given advice about how to keep your wound clean when it’s healing, and your surgeon may prescribe antibiotics for a few days.
There are a number of things you can do to prevent an ingrown toenail.
For answers to frequently asked questions on this topic, see FAQs.
For sources and links to further information, see Resources.
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This information was published by Bupa's Health Information Team and is based on reputable sources of medical evidence. It has been reviewed by appropriate medical or clinical professionals. Photos are only for illustrative purposes and do not reflect every presentation of a condition. The content is intended only for general information and does not replace the need for personal advice from a qualified health professional. For more details on how we produce our content and its sources, visit the About our Health Information page.
Publication date: May 2011