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Ingrown Toenails: Everything You Need to Know

Summer is here, and before you book a pedicure or slip on your favorite sandals, make sure to care for any ingrown toenails. This common nail issue can occur year-round, but an ingrown toenail shouldn’t keep you from showing off your feet this summer. Here’s everything you need to know about the condition and treatment.

What Are Ingrown Toenails?

An ingrown toenail occurs when the nail grows into the skin on the side of your toe instead of growing normally, straight across the top of the toe.

You’re more likely to develop this condition on your big toe, and if you have curved or thick nails.

What Causes Ingrown Toenails?

The condition is most commonly caused by ill-fitting shoes, particularly shoes that are too tight, or incorrect nail trimming. The condition may also run in your family.

To prevent the uncomfortable condition, the American Podiatric Medical Association (APMA) recommends trimming your nails straight across. You should not press the clippers into the sides of your nails or use a nail file to round the nails. Use only toenail clippers for trimming.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of an Ingrown Toenail?

An ingrown toenail causes pain, redness, and swelling around the nail. If you notice pus or a discharge — signs of infection — call your doctor. In rare cases, you can develop an abscess under the nail.

If you have diabetes or another condition that affects the feeling in your feet, you may not notice the pain from an ingrown toenail. That’s why diabetics should check their feet regularly for wounds or sores.

Do Ingrown Toenails Require Medical Treatment?

If there is no sign of infection, you can treat an ingrown toenail at home. The APMA suggests soaking your foot in warm salt water or warm, soapy water. Then dry it off, apply antiseptic cream, and wrap or bandage the toe. If the toenail does not improve after a few days, you should see your doctor. Do not try to clip the affected area yourself.

If the pain gets worse or you have problems walking or getting around, schedule an appointment with your doctor or a podiatrist. If you develop an abscess as a result of the ingrown toenail, you likely will need medical care. Treatment options include cutting back the nail and lifting the nail above the skin. You may also be given medicine to treat an infection.

Questions or concerns? Make an appointment with the Department of Dermatology at UPMC.