Ingrown toenails

A toenail is called ingrown, or ingrowing, when the sides of the nail grow into the surrounding skin.

It’s often the big toe that’s affected, either on one or both sides of the nail. As the nail pierces the skin, it becomes red, swollen and tender. Other possible symptoms include:

  • Pain when pressure is applied to the toe
  • Inflammation of the skin at the end of the toe
  • Oedema (a build-up of fluid) in the area surrounding the toe
  • Bleeding
  • Pus around the affected area

Causes
A number of things can cause an ingrown toenail, including:

  • Cutting toenails too short, or cutting the edges – this often encourages the skin to fold over the nail so that the nail grows into the skin.
  • Tight-fitting shoes, socks or tights – this places pressure on the skin around the toenail.
  • Sweaty feet – this can make the skin around the toenails soft, so that it's easier for the nail to pierce it.
  • Injury – for example, a stubbed toe.  
  • The nails natural shape – if the sides of the nail are curved or fan-shaped, the toenail is more likely to press into the adjacent skin

Treatment
Left untreated, an ingrown toenail can become infected, so it’s important to:

  • Keep feet clean
  • Change socks regularly
  • Cut toenails straight across
  • Gently push the skin away from the nail (a cotton bud is best)
  • Wear well-fitting shoes

Some ingrown nails may need surgery. This may involve removing part or all of the toenail.

Prevention
Taking good care of your feet will help prevent ingrown toenails. Good care includes:

  • Washing your feet every day, and using foot moisturiser. You can also use a foot file or pumice stone to remove hard or dead skin.
  • Wearing shoes that fit properly. You should also change your socks (or tights) every day.
  • Visit your GP or a podiatrist as soon as possible if you develop any kind of problem with your feet.