How to Treat Ingrown Toenails

Ingrown toenails, medically known as onychocryptosis, occur when the edge of a toenail grows into the surrounding skin, leading to pain, redness, and swelling. This common foot condition can affect individuals of any age and is frequently seen in podiatry practices like Manly Cove Podiatry

Ingrown toenails can range from mild discomfort to severe pain and infection, significantly impacting daily activities and quality of life. Understanding the basic mechanisms behind ingrown toenails, including how they develop and why they cause problems, is the first step toward effective management and prevention.

Causes and Risk Factors for Ingrown Toenails

Several factors can contribute to the development of ingrown toenails, with some of the most common being:

  • Improper Nail Trimming: Cutting toenails too short or not straight across can encourage the nail to grow into the skin.
  • Tight Footwear and Socks: Shoes and socks that are too tight can press the nail into the toe skin, particularly on the sides of the feet.
  • Toe Injuries: Trauma to the toe, such as stubbing, can alter nail growth and lead to ingrown toenails.
  • Genetic Predisposition: Some people are naturally predisposed to ingrown toenails due to the curvature of their nails.
  • Poor Foot Hygiene: Inadequate foot care can increase the risk of ingrown toenails and subsequent infections.
  • Excessive Foot Sweat: Moist environments can soften the skin around the toenails, making it easier for the nail to pierce the skin.

Recognising the Symptoms of Ingrown Toenails

The symptoms of ingrown toenails can vary from mild discomfort to severe pain and infection. Early recognition of these symptoms is key to effective treatment and preventing further complications. Common signs include:

  • Pain and Tenderness along one or both sides of the toenail, especially when wearing shoes or applying pressure.
  • Redness around the toenail, indicating irritation or inflammation.
  • Swelling of the toe around the nail.
  • Infection may be present if the area becomes warm, more swollen, and exudes pus or a watery discharge, often accompanied by a foul smell.
  • Overgrowth of Skin around the nail, which can occur in response to the irritation.

Noticing these symptoms early and taking appropriate steps can prevent the condition from worsening.

Home Care Strategies for Early-Stage Ingrown Toenails

For those in the early stages of an ingrown toenail, several home care strategies can be effective in alleviating symptoms and encouraging proper nail growth:

  • Soak the Foot: Warm, soapy water soaks for 15-20 minutes several times a day can reduce swelling and ease pain.
  • Gently Lift the Nail: After soaking, you can attempt to gently lift the edge of the ingrown nail away from the skin. Placing a small piece of clean cotton or dental floss under the nail can help guide its growth direction away from the skin.
  • Apply Antibiotic Cream: To prevent infection, apply an over-the-counter antibiotic cream or ointment as directed.
  • Choose Proper Footwear: Wear open-toed shoes or sandals to avoid pressure on the ingrown toenail.
  • Pain Relief: Over-the-counter pain relievers like acetaminophen or ibuprofen can help manage discomfort.

When to Seek Professional Podiatric Care

While home remedies can be effective for mild ingrown toenails, certain situations require professional intervention:

  • Persistent Pain and Symptoms: If symptoms do not improve after a week of home treatment.
  • Signs of Infection: Increased redness, warmth, pus, or severe pain around the toenail are indicators of a possible infection.
  • Recurrent Ingrown Toenails: If ingrown toenails are a recurring problem, professional assessment is necessary to determine a long-term solution.
  • Underlying Health Conditions: Individuals with diabetes, poor circulation, or nerve damage in the feet should seek immediate care for any foot issues, including ingrown toenails, to prevent serious complications.

A podiatrist like Manly Cove Podiatry can provide specialised treatments for ingrown toenails, ranging from conservative management to surgical options, tailored to the severity and recurrence of the condition. Early podiatric consultation ensures the best outcomes, preventing the progression of the condition and safeguarding overall foot health.

Podiatric Treatments for Ingrown Toenails

Podiatric treatments for ingrown toenails range from conservative methods to more invasive procedures, depending on the severity and recurrence of the condition:

  • Partial Nail Removal: For severe or infected ingrown toenails, a podiatrist may remove the portion of the nail that is ingrown. This procedure is typically done under local anesthesia and can provide immediate relief.
  • Total Nail Avulsion: In cases where the entire nail is problematic, or if problems are recurrent, removing the entire toenail may be necessary. This option is considered a last resort and is also performed under local anesthesia.
  • Matrixectomy: Often done following partial or total nail removal, this procedure involves destroying or removing a portion of the nail matrix to prevent the problematic section of the nail from growing back. This can be achieved chemically or surgically.

Post-Treatment Care and Recovery

After receiving treatment for an ingrown toenail, proper care is crucial to ensure a smooth recovery and prevent complications:

  • Follow Podiatrist Instructions: Adhering to your podiatrist’s post-procedure care instructions, including wound care and activity restrictions, is essential.
  • Keep the Area Clean and Dry: Proper hygiene helps prevent infection. Regularly changing bandages and applying recommended topical antibiotics are key steps.
  • Wear Suitable Footwear: Avoid tight or restrictive shoes that can exert pressure on the toe during the recovery period.
  • Monitor for Signs of Infection: Be vigilant for any signs of infection, such as increased redness, swelling, or discharge, and report these to your podiatrist immediately.

Recovery times can vary based on the treatment method and individual healing rates, but following these guidelines can help expedite the healing process.

Preventing Ingrown Toenails: Tips and Best Practices

Preventing ingrown toenails involves adopting foot care practices that minimise risk factors:

  • Proper Nail Trimming: Cut toenails straight across and not too short, avoiding rounded corners that can encourage nails to grow into the skin.
  • Appropriate Footwear: Shoes should fit well, with enough room for the toes to move freely without excessive pressure.
  • Foot Hygiene: Maintain clean, dry feet to prevent infection. Regular foot inspections can help catch early signs of ingrown toenails or other foot issues.
  • Protect Your Feet: Wear protective footwear in environments where toe injuries are possible, and avoid activities that repeatedly traumatise the toenails.

The Importance of Choosing the Right Footwear

Selecting the right footwear is critical in preventing ingrown toenails and maintaining overall foot health. Shoes that are too tight, narrow, or with high heels can increase the pressure on the toes, leading to nail damage and encouraging ingrown toenails. Opting for shoes with a wide toe box, good arch support, and low heels can help ensure toes have sufficient space and reduce undue stress on the toenails. 

When Ingrown Toenails Signal Underlying Health Issues

While ingrown toenails are often due to external factors like footwear or nail care practices, they can sometimes indicate underlying health conditions, such as fungal infections, diabetes, or vascular issues, which can affect nail growth and wound healing. Individuals with chronic ingrown toenails, especially those with underlying health issues, should seek comprehensive evaluation by a podiatrist to ensure appropriate management of both the ingrown toenail and any associated medical conditions.


Effectively managing and preventing ingrown toenails requires a combination of proper foot care practices, appropriate footwear, and professional podiatric care when necessary. Understanding the causes, symptoms, and treatment options for ingrown toenails empowers individuals to take proactive steps towards maintaining foot health. By addressing ingrown toenails early and adopting preventative measures, it’s possible to avoid the discomfort and complications associated with this common condition, ensuring healthy feet for a lifetime.