Ingrown toenails: symptoms, causes and treatment

An ingrown toenail can be uncomfortable, disruptive and a danger to your health if left untreated.  It forms when pressure is applied to the nail for prolonged periods of time, forcing the nail to pierce the surrounding skin.  If you’re unsure whether you have an ingrown toenail, read our podiatrist-approved causes, symptoms and treatments of ingrown toenails to find out:


  • Incorrect nail cutting: This is the most common cause of ingrown toenails.  Leaving curved or ragged edges when cutting makes the nail more likely to pierce the skin and grow abnormally.
  • Genes: Genetic factors such as brittle nails with sharp edges can also make you prone to ingrowing nails. Your nails may also have a natural tendency to curl outwards or inwards into the flesh.
  • Incorrect footwear: ill-fitting shoes, tight hosiery and socks can also push your toe flesh into the nail so that it pierces the skin.
  • Improper foot hygiene: Excessive sweating and failing to rotate footwear moistens and weakens the skin on your feet.  This makes it easier for your toenails to penetrate it.


Ingrown toenails most commonly affect the big toes.


An ingrowing toenail initially feels like a splinter.  If left alone, it can grow to be extremely painful, inflamed or infected.  In more severe cases, it may cause pus and bleeding.

Is it serious?

If left untreated, the infection can spread to the rest of the toe and foot and could lead to surgery. The quicker you treat it, the less painful the treatment.


If you’re suffering from an ingrown toenail, we recommend you see a podiatrist as soon as possible.   An experienced podiatrist will be able to assess the severity of your ingrowth and suggest the most effective treatment.

Prior to your appointment, you may relieve the discomfort by bathing your feet in a salty foot bath.  Ensure you dry them thoroughly after the bath, apply a sterile dressing to the affected area, and rest them whenever possible.

Before your appointment, you can relieve discomfort by taking a salty foot bath.

At your appointment, an AA Podiatrist will remove the offending spike of nail. For toes too painful to touch, a local anaesthetic will be used.  If your nail is involuted (curved downwards towards the centre of your toe), the part of the nail that is curling into the flesh will be removed.

If you toenail is infected, you will be prescribed with the relevant antibiotics at the end of your appointment.

For ingrown toenails that keep coming back, your AA Podiatrist may recommend Partial Nail Avulsion (PNA). This procedure is done under local anaesthetic.  8-10% of the nail is removed, so that the nail becomes narrower. After surgery, the overall appearance of the nail looks normal.

Read more: Ingrown toenail appointment walk-through


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