Ingrown toenails can cause pain & discomfort & may require surgery if not managed early on. Read our guide to the causes, symptoms & treatment options

An ingrown toenail is when the nail grows into the skin on one, or both, sides of the toe. It usually affects the big toe but can affect any toe.

What do ingrown toenails look & feel like?

You may experience one or more of the following symptoms:

• It hurts when pressure’s applied to the toe

• The skin surrounding the toe may be red and puffy

• There’s bleeding from around the nail

• White or yellow discharge is coming from the affected area

A close up of an ingrown toenail
A close up of an ingrown toenail
What causes ingrown toenails?

• Cutting nails too short, or trimming edges. This encourages the nail to grow into the skin

• Badly fitting footwear, sock or tights. These press toenails into the surrounding skin

• Hot and sweaty feet. This softens the skin of your feet, making it easier for toenails to cut into skin

• A toe injury. Stubbing, or crushing, your toe can lead to an ingrown toenail

• Fungal nail infections. These can thicken or widen toenails

How can I treat my ingrown toenail?

Ingrown toenails can be managed by:

• Soaking your foot in warm water three or four times a day for a few days, to help soften the skin around the toe

• Keeping your feet clean by washing them daily

• Changing socks and tights regularly

• Only wearing comfortable footwear and hosiery

• Taking paracetamol or ibuprofen to help relieve any pain

Speak to your pharmacist about treatment options – they can also advise you if there appears to be an infection. 

A pair of feet submerged in a bucket of water next to a towel and bar of soap
How to prevent ingrown toenails

• Cut your toenails straight across the top, and not too short

• Always buy new footwear in the afternoon. Our feet swell as they get warmer, and new shoes that were comfortable when bought in the morning may be too tight later in the day

• Wear shoes that fit properly

• If you wear high heels at work, leave them at the office and wear comfortable shoes like trainers when commuting

Your pharmacist can help you with ingrown toenail prevention products and foot care options. 

When should I see my GP?

You should visit your GP if:

• Pus is coming from around your toe. This means it’s probably infected, and you may need antibiotics

• You’re diabetic. Diabetes reduces the blood supply to the feet, meaning foot conditions can be slow to heal. Also, because of numbness or reduced sensitivity in the feet, you could have an ingrown toenail and not feel it

• Your ingrown toenail is very painful, not responding to treatment, or keeps returning

A pair of hands cutting away the edges of a toe nail
Does an ingrown toenail require surgery?

If your ingrown toenail doesn't grow out by itself, your GP or podiatrist (foot specialist) may recommend surgery.

Surgical options include partial, or total, nail removal (avulsion). 

With partial removal your problem toe is numbed with a local anaesthetic and the edges of the toenail are cut away.

Total removal is usually for when your nail is thickened and pressing into the skin surrounding your toe.

Next steps

• Cut toenails correctly and wear comfortable footwear

• Keep feet clean. Bathe them every day in warm soapy water

• Visit your GP if your ingrown toenail becomes infected or very painful