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ingrown toenail

An ingrown toenail is a condition in which one or more of the edges of a toenail grows into the skin of the toe.

What is going on in the body?
Usually one or both sides of the toenail dig into the flesh surrounding the nail. This often causes pain and inflammation.

What are the signs and symptoms of the condition?
Ingrown toenails are most commonly seen in the great or big toe, but any toe can be affected. Symptoms may include:
  • a toenail that can be seen growing abnormally into the skin
  • pain
  • redness
  • swelling
  • increased warmth in the affected toe
  • pus coming out of the toe, if an infection occurs
What are the causes and risks of the condition?
A person has a higher risk of developing this condition if he or she:
  • has diabetes
  • has circulation problems in the feet
  • has curved toenails
  • clips his or her toenails too short or allows the nail to become too long
  • wears shoes that fit too tightly
  • has thickened toenails
What can be done to prevent the condition?
Comfortable, well-fitting shoes help to prevent ingrown toenails. Toenails should be trimmed regularly but not cut too short. People who have diabetes or circulation problems are often advised to have a foot specialist, known as a podiatrist, cut their toenails.

How is the condition diagnosed?
The condition is diagnosed based on the appearance of the toe and nail plate.

What are the long-term effects of the condition?
Ingrown toenails can be quite painful, but the most worrisome long-term effect is infection. When a person has diabetes or circulation problems, an infection may lead to complications such as spreading skin infections or blood infections. Foot amputation or even death can result in this setting if the condition is not treated early.

What are the risks to others?
This condition is not contagious.

What are the treatments for the condition?
Minor surgery is performed to remove all or part of the toenail. Special devices or even cotton balls may be placed under the edge of the toenail as it grows back to prevent the problem from happening again. Antibiotics are given for any infection present.

What are the side effects of the treatments?
The surgery carries a risk of bleeding and infection. Antibiotics can cause allergic reactions, stomach upset, and other side effects. Other side effects depend on the antibiotic used.

What happens after treatment for the condition?
After recovery, people are generally able to go back to normal activities. People who have diabetes and circulation problems often require further treatment and monitoring.

How is the condition monitored?
Most people can check for a repeat of this condition on their own. People with diabetes and circulation problems need to examine their own feet daily and have their feet examined by a doctor or podiatrist one or more times a year.

Author: Adam Brochert, MD
Reviewer: HealthAnswers Australia Medical Review Panel
Editor: Dr David Taylor, Chief Medical Officer HealthAnswers Australia
Last Updated: 1/10/2001
Potential conflict of interest information for reviewers available on request

This website and article is not a substitute for independent professional advice. Nothing contained in this website is intended to be used as medical advice and it is not intended to be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease, nor should it be used for therapeutic purposes or as a substitute for your own health professional's advice.  All Health and any associated parties do not accept any liability for any injury, loss or damage incurred by use of or reliance on the information.


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