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Help for Ingrown Toenails

A Monthly Foot Fact from

Teaneck, NJ - The irritation, redness and swelling that accompany an ingrown toenail lead to one basic thing: ouch.

An ingrown toenail, known to physicians as onychocryptosis, is caused when the nail of the toe grows into the surrounding skin. The condition is usually very painful and can lead to a serious infection.

According to Dr. Suzanne Belyea, Medical Director of, ingrown toenails develop for many reasons. In some cases the condition is congenital. Often trauma, like stubbing a toe or having it stepped on, can jam the nail into the skin. The repeated pounding from running or other sports can also cause ingrown toenails.

"The most common cause is cutting your toenails incorrectly," Dr. Belyea says. "Often poorly cut nails will re-grow into the skin, and wearing tight stockings or shoes with a tight toe box makes matters worse." Toenails should normally be cut straight across so that the nail corner is visible.

"You can have very mild symptoms of an ingrown toenail for weeks or months, but once the skin is opened and an infection sets in, you're dealing with a serious situation," Dr. Belyea adds. Bacteria can enter the skin next to the nail, and will thrive in a warm, moist environment. At this stage, treatment with sterile instruments and antibiotics is usually necessary.

One home treatment for an ingrown toenail involves soaking the toe in warm salt water for 20-30 minutes four times a day. To relieve pressure, you can cut back the nail, but be careful not to make the problem worse by irritating the wound or cutting the nail at an angle that will cause it to grow back into the skin and become more and more ingrown. A podiatrist can do this more accurately.

Applying an antibiotic such as Neosporin reduces the chance of infection. Wearing an open-toe shoe will help ease pressure on the area.

If an infection sets in, see your doctor. For more information on ingrown toenails and other foot conditions, visit is dedicated to educating the public about foot health, creating forums for consumers to communicate with foot health professionals, and most importantly, eliminating unnecessary foot pain.

last update: July 2008

This information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. You should not use this material to diagnose or treat a health condition or disease without consulting with your healthcare provider.
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