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Ingrown Nail

What is an ingrown nail?

An ingrown nail is when the edge of your fingernail or toenail grows into the skin next to it.


What increases my risk of an ingrown nail?

  • Tight shoes or socks: Tight shoes, socks, or hose can put pressure on your toes and increase your risk of an ingrown nail.

  • Improper nail care: Your risk of an ingrown nail increases if you trim your nails too short or round the edges.

  • Nail injury: You may get an ingrown toenail after you stub your toe or tear your nail. Activities that put pressure on your toes can also increase your risk.

  • Curved or thick nails: Your nails may be naturally thick, curved, or covered with skin.

  • Poor nail hygiene: Your risk of an ingrown nail increases if your feet sweat a lot or you do not wash your feet regularly.

What are the signs and symptoms of an ingrown nail?

  • Painful, red, and swollen skin around your nail

  • Sharp pain when you walk

  • Pus around your cuticle (skin around your nail)

How is an ingrown nail treated?

  • Medicines:

    • Acetaminophen: This medicine decreases pain. You can buy acetaminophen without a doctor's order. Ask how much to take and how often to take it. Follow directions. Acetaminophen can cause liver damage if not taken correctly.

    • NSAIDs: These medicines decrease swelling and pain. You can buy NSAIDs without a doctor's order. Ask your primary healthcare provider which medicine is right for you, and how much to take. Take as directed. NSAIDs can cause stomach bleeding or kidney problems if not taken correctly.

    • Antibiotics: This medicine is given to fight or prevent an infection caused by bacteria.

  • Partial nail avulsion: Your caregiver will cut a small section of nail from the side of the toenail that is ingrown.

  • Matricectomy: This procedure destroys part of your nail matrix so that a small section of your nail stops growing. Your nail matrix is the area that your nail grows from. It is the pale or white color at the base of your nail. Most of the matrix cannot be seen because it lies underneath the skin. A chemical, laser, or instrument may be used to destroy the nail matrix.

What are the risks of an ingrown nail?

Your symptoms may return, even after treatment. You may have another ingrown nail. You may need surgery to remove part or all of your nail. Without treatment, your finger or toe may become painful and infected. You may not be able to do your usual activities. You may have trouble walking. An infection in your finger or toe may make your nail thick, rough, or change color. The infection may spread to nearby tissue or your bones.

How can I manage my symptoms and prevent another ingrown nail?

  • Soak and lift the nail: Soak your ingrown nail in water for 20 minutes, 2 times each day. Then gently lift the edge of the ingrown nail away from the skin. Wedge a small piece of cotton or gauze under the corner of the nail. This may help keep the nail from growing into the skin.

  • Wear shoes and socks that fit well: Make sure they are not too tight. You may need to wear a shoe with the toe cut out, such as sandals, until your ingrown toenail heals. Do not wear shoes that have pointed toes or heels that are more than 2 inches high. Do not wear tight hose or socks. Wear socks that pull moisture away from your feet, such as cotton-acrylic blends.

  • Carefully trim your nails: Cut your nails straight across. Do not cut them too short. Lightly file the nail corners if you have sharp edges. Do not round your nails. Do not rip or tear off the tips of your nails. This may cause your nail edge to grow into the skin. Use clippers, not nail scissors.

  • Keep your nails clean and dry: Wash your hands and feet with soap and water. Pat dry with a clean towel. Dry in between each toe. Do not put lotion between your toes.

  • Inspect your nails daily: Look for signs of an ingrown nail. Manage problems early so the nail does not become infected.

When should I contact my caregiver?

Contact your caregiver if:

  • You have a fever.

  • You have pus under the cuticle.

  • The skin around your nail becomes red, painful, and swollen.

  • Your ingrown nail is not better in 7 days.

  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

When should I seek immediate care?

Seek care immediately or call 911 if:

  • You have a red streak running up your leg or arm.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© 2013 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

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