What Does An Ingrown Toenail Look Like?

An ingrown toenail is one of the key problems of the toenail. It affects the big toe more than all other toes put together. An ingrown toenail happens when toenails that should grow straight and upward curve and grow into the adjacent skin or nail bed. While some of the symptoms of an ingrown toenail are very similar to other toenail problems, it also presents symptoms that make it easy to identify.

What an ingrown toenail looks like

The symptoms presented by an ingrown toenail can be categorised into two phases, the first being the pre-infection stage which includes:

  •         The surrounding skin: An ingrown toenail causes swelling, tenderness, and hardness of the surrounding skin. In this state, the skin will be painful even to the least pressure.
  •         Fluid: Ingrown toenail also causes fluid to gather around the toenail and beneath the nail resulting in pressure building up beneath the nail.

The second phase of symptoms appear when infection set in, they include:

  •         The surrounding skin: the swelling of the surrounding skin becomes more pronounced and the skin turns red becoming very tender. The pain increases significantly. The surrounding skin will also begin to grow over the nail.
  •         Bleeding: at this advanced stage of an ingrown toenail, bleeding set in. Tiny veins in the skin get broken resulting in an outflow of blood.
  •         Pus: this is one of the most serious symptoms of an ingrown toenail. As the body tries to fight off the infection by itself, a fluid containing dead tissue, cells, and bacteria gathers around and under the ingrown toenail. This fluid is called pus. It could be white, yellow, brown, or green. It also often has a foul odor.

It is important to decipher whether an ingrown toenail has been infected or not. This will inform the kind of treatment to be used.

Causes of an ingrown toenail

  •         Improper cutting of toenail: nails are supposed to be cut straight across but we often follow the curve of the nail when cutting it. This pattern encourages the toenails to grow curved inward rather than grow straight hence growing into the adjacent skin or nail bed. This is one of the leading causes of an ingrown toenail.
  •         Excessive cutting of the nail: in a bid to keep the nail clean and short, we often overdo it. Cutting the toenail too short also encourages the awkward growth of the nail which could ultimately result in an ingrown toenail.
  •         Tight footwear: wearing ill-fitted footwear will cramp the toes together hence causing the toenails to exert pressure on the adjacent skin or nail bed. If this continues long enough or frequently, this will cause a permanent curving of the toenail which would thereafter result in an ingrown toenail.
  •         Injury to the toenail: this is a key contributor to an ingrown toenail. Hitting the toes against a hard object can injure the toenails hence forcing them into awkward positions that ultimately result in an ingrown toenail.

Other contributing factors are poor foot hygiene, poor posture, underlying health issues, small toenail bed, and congenital toenail deformity.

Treatments of an ingrown toenail

An ingrown toenail can be treated in several ways: foot soak, antibiotic ointment, toe brace, as well as partial or total removal of the toenail.

Foot soak and antibiotic ointment

This is a home remedy.

  •         Create a solution of warm water and salt, then soak your foot in it for 15 minutes.
  •         Thereafter, push the surrounding skin away with a cotton ball and pull the nail up gently. You can also put dental floss or a tiny piece of cotton beneath the nail.
  •         Finally, apply antibiotic ointment to prevent infection.

Toe brace

Toe braces are designed to act as a spring to gently pull the nail away from the adjacent skin so that it could grow over it rather than grow into it. This can be done at home.


In certain cases, especially when an infection has set in, surgery may be required to treat an ingrown toenail. This could be a partial or total removal. Partial removal involves cutting the part of the nail that grew into the adjacent skin and treating it to ensure it does not regrow. Surgical removal of ingrown toenails should be handled by an expert to avoid complications.


An ingrown toenail is not something to take lightly. If not treated promptly, an infection can easily set in hence making it very painful. When you see the symptoms above, you know you have an ingrown toenail and will be able to tell if infected. It is imperative to treat an ingrown toenail as soon as the early symptoms are observed before it gets infected because once infected, you will most likely need the service of an expert.

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