How to deal with an ingrown toenail

An ingrown toenail forms once the sides of the toenail grow into the bordering skin. The nail curls and burrows into the skin which turns reddened, tender and swollen.

In most cases, the big toe is affected either on one or both sides. Other likely signs that might be present include:

  • Pain or discomfort if pressure is applied on the toe
  • Skin inflammation at the tip of the toe
  • Accumulation of fluid in the region bordering the toe
  • Bleeding
  • Excess growth of skin around the affected toe
  • White or yellowish drainage from the site

What are the usual causes?

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Pain or discomfort if pressure is applied on the toe.

Various things can trigger the development of an ingrown toenail such as:

  • Poorly trimmed toenails – cutting the toenails excessively short or trimming the borders might promote the folding of the skin over the nail where it can move into the skin
  • Using ill-fitting footwear, tights or socks – these forces pressure on the skin bordering the toenail. The skin might be pierced once it is pressed onto the toenail.
  • Injuries – stubbing the toe can lead to an ingrown toenail
  • Perspiring feet – if the skin surrounding the toenails is soft, the nail can easily pierce through and embed within
  • Natural form or shape of the nail – the sides of fan-shaped or curved toenails are likely to press into the skin bordering the nail

When to consult a doctor

A doctor must be seen if the ingrown toenail is severely inflamed along with drainage of pus or bleeding since it is an indication of an infection.

Consult a doctor if the individual has been diagnosed with diabetes and ends up with an ingrown toenail. The condition can affect how the toenail recuperates.


If not properly managed, an ingrown toenail is at risk for infection, thus it is vital to:

  • Keep the feet clean with regular washing with water and soap
  • Regularly change socks
  • Trim the toenails straight across to prevent them from digging into the bordering skin
  • Carefully drive the skin away from the nail with a cotton bud
  • Use shoes that comfortably and properly fit

Surgical intervention might be suggested if the condition of the toenail does not seem to improve.

Quick Note / Disclaimer

The material posted on this page on an ingrown toenail is for learning and educational purposes only. To learn to recognize the signs and how it is managed, register for a first aid and CPR course with Kelowna First Aid.