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What is an Ingrown Nail?

Anna T.
Updated Feb 26, 2024
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An ingrown nail is a problem that occurs when the side of the fingernail or toenail starts to grow into the skin next to it. Ingrown toenails tend to be much more common than ingrown fingernails because of the majority of people who wear shoes on a daily basis. When shoes are too tight for the feet, the nails on the toes, particularly the big toe, might push against the surrounding skin. An ingrown nail will usually cause some pain or mild discomfort initially, which is usually followed by infection if it is not treated quickly. Doctors use different methods of treatment for ingrown nails, and the treatment used normally depends on how severe the problem is.

There are two types of ingrown nails: ingrown toenails and ingrown fingernails. Toenails might become ingrown because of ill-fitting shoes or because of improper toenail trimming. Shoes that do not fit correctly are the most common cause of ingrown toenails. People do not often get ingrown fingernails, and when the problem does occur, it is usually the result of excessive nail biting or from cutting the nails down into a curved shape rather than straight across. When a fingernail is curved rather than straight, there is a good chance that the curved nail might push into the skin next to it, which may lead to an ingrown nail.

The first symptom a person might notice from any type of ingrown nail is mild redness in the skin surrounding the nail and some pain. Most people also find that the skin surrounding their nails is very sensitive to the touch. It is not uncommon for people to put off seeing a doctor about their ingrown nails at this point because they may not realize anything requiring treatment is wrong. As the nail continues to grow into the skin, an infection will likely develop, and a person might notice increased pain along with pus or some other type of discharge coming out of the skin beside the nail. Most people decide to see their doctors when they notice infection.

When an ingrown nail is not infected or the infection is very mild, it may be treatable at home with warm water soaks and the regular application of over-the-counter antibiotic cream. If these methods do not improve symptoms, a doctor's visit is usually necessary. Doctors often have to inject anesthetic into the sides of the fingers or toes, depending on which type of ingrown nail is present, and cut away part of the nail when the problem is severe. When ingrown nails are recurrent, part of the nail bed might additionally have to be cut away to keep the nail from growing back at the awkward angle that continues to cause the recurring ingrowth. Oral antibiotics are also usually prescribed to patients to help rid their bodies of any infections caused by ingrown nails.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Anna T.
By Anna T.
Anna Thurman is a skilled writer who lends her talents to WiseGeek. Her ability to research and present information in an engaging and accessible manner allows her to create content that resonates with readers across a wide range of subjects.
Discussion Comments
By Ocelot60 — On Aug 29, 2014

@raynbow- You have the right idea, because keeping your toenails well groomed will help prevent them from becoming ingrown. On the other hand, long, cracked toenails are definitely more likely to cause you problems.

Start by trimming your toenails straight across the tips. This will help to prevent them from turning into your toes. Next, if you suspect a particular nail is starting to become ingrown, use a nail file and clippers to carefully raise up the corners of the nail and trim off any areas that are starting to get pointing or jagged. Finish off your pedicure by smoothing out the tips of your toenails with a nail file or emery board. Repeat this toenail maintenance regimen every few weeks for the best results.

By Raynbow — On Aug 28, 2014

I have toe pain frequently after wearing certain types of shoes, so I suspect my problem is an ingrown toenail. I haven't noticed any infected areas yet, and I would like to keep it that way. I'm looking for some tips for correctly trimming and filing your toenails to prevent ingrown nails from becoming severely painful and infected.

Anna T.
Anna T.
Anna Thurman is a skilled writer who lends her talents to WiseGeek. Her ability to research and present information in an engaging and accessible manner allows her to create content that resonates with readers across a wide range of subjects.
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