An ingrown toenail develops when the sides of the toenail grow into the surrounding skin. The big toe is often affected, either on one or both sides. The nail curls and pierces the skin, which becomes red, swollen and tender.
Other possible symptoms include:
- Pain if pressure is applied to the toe
- Inflammation of the skin at the end of the toe
- A build-up of fluid (oedema) in the area surrounding the toe
- An overgrowth of skin around the affected toe (hypertrophy)
- White or yellow pus coming from the affected area
A number of things can cause an ingrown toenail to develop, including:
- Badly cut toenails – cutting toenails too short, or cutting the edges, will encourage the skin to fold over the nail and the nail to grow into the skin
- Tight-fitting shoes, socks or tights – this places pressure on the skin around the toenail; the skin may be pierced if it's pressed on to the toenail
- Sweaty feet – if the skin around the toenails is soft, it's easier for the nail to pierce it and embed itself within it
- Injury – for example, stubbing your toe can sometimes cause an ingrown toenail to develop
- The natural shape of the nail – the sides of curved or fan-shaped toenails are more likely to press into the skin surrounding the nail
Left untreated, an ingrown toenail can become infected, so it’s important to:
- Keep feet clean by washing them regularly with soap and water
- Change socks regularly
- Cut toenails straight across
- Gently push the skin away from the nail using a cotton bud (a small amount of olive oil will help to soften the skin)
- Wear shoes that fit properly
Surgery may be recommended if your toenail doesn't improve. Depending on the severity of your symptoms, this may involve removing part or all of the toenail.
Taking care of your feet will help prevent foot problems such as ingrown toenails. It’s important to cut your toenails properly (straight across, not at an angle or down the edges).
- Wash your feet every day, dry them thoroughly and use foot moisturiser. You can also use a foot file or pumice stone to remove hard or dead skin.
- Wearing shoes that fit properly will help to ensure your feet remain healthy. You should also change your socks (or tights) every day.
- Visit your GP or a podiatrist as soon as possible if you develop problems with your feet.