Ingrown Nails: What Causes Them? What Are the Treatment Options? 

July 23, 2021
Ingrown Nails: What Causes Them? What Are the Treatment Options? 

Ingrown toenails can become unsightly and uncomfortable, but they can also pose a health risk if left untreated. Although you can get an ingrown toenail on any of your toes, you are most likely to get one on your big toe. Due to the discomfort and risk of infection for this condition, it is recommended that diagnosis and treatment happen quickly. 


When a toenail starts to cut into the skin of your toe instead of growing straight toward the end of your toe, an ingrown toenail develops. This condition often coincides with improperly clipped toenails or wearing shoes that are too small or tight. People with especially curved toenails are at increased risk of getting ingrown toenails. Injuries can also cause the development of ingrown toenails. 


Sometimes, treatment for ingrown toenails can be performed at home. If the pain is manageable and the wound is clean, patients may soak their feet in warm water for at least 20 minutes before carefully lifting the ingrown nail out of their skin. The nail may then be supported with a bit of a cotton ball or other clean medical supplies to allow the skin to heal, and prevent the toenail from continuing to cut into it. Applying an over-the-counter antibiotic ointment to the wounded skin can help prevent an infection. 

More severe conditions require treating ingrown toenails to be done by a doctor. If the wound is red and exuding pus, it is likely infected. Even without any signs of infection, it may also be too painful to treat at home. In either of these scenarios, a visit to your doctor is in order. Your doctor may either lift and support the ingrown toenail, or a more aggressive approach may be necessary. 

If lifting the toenail does not provide relief, partially removing the toenail may be necessary. After numbing the toe, a doctor can remove the part of the toenail that has become ingrown. This is called a partial nail avulsion. 

Patients who experience repeated ingrown toenails may need to have part of the toenail and the nail bed removed to prevent recurrence. This can be done with a laser, chemical, or other treatment protocol. Following this procedure, it is possible that the toenail may not grow back. 


Due to the risk of infection and discomfort caused by ingrown toenails, prevention is a significant part of patient education following treatment. There are several things patients can do to greatly reduce their risk of developing ingrown toenails:

  • Trim your toenails properly. When patients trim their toenails along the curve of their foot, they are risking the development of ingrown toenails. Instead, podiatrists recommend that the toenail be trimmed straight across. 
  • Don’t wear ill-fitting shoes. Shoes that pinch the toes, put pressure on them, or otherwise fit uncomfortably in the toe box should be avoided. The added pressure on toenails can cause them to become ingrown. 
  • Don’t cut your toenails too short. Allowing toenails to grow to the edge of your toe and maintaining that length can help prevent ingrown toenails. 

Patients who have a history of ingrown toenails should check their feet regularly. An ingrown toenail can become easily infected. Preventing infection can help you avoid a trip to the doctor. 

If you are experiencing painful or recurrent ingrown toenails, schedule a consultation with Dr. Elmi at Diablo Foot & Ankle. He has over six years of experience as a surgeon helping to treat over 10,000 patients with foot and ankle maladies, and he’s ready to help you too! Give us a call today at 925-464-1982