Merck Manual

Please confirm that you are a health care professional

honeypot link

Ingrown Toenail



Chris G. Adigun

, MD, Dermatology & Laser Center of Chapel Hill

Last full review/revision Aug 2019| Content last modified Aug 2019
Click here for Patient Education
Topic Resources

An ingrown toenail is incurvation or impingement of a nail border into its adjacent nail fold, causing pain.

Symptoms and Signs of Ingrown Toenail

Pain occurs at the corner of the nail fold or, less commonly, along its entire lateral margin. Initially only mild discomfort may be present, especially when wearing certain shoes. In chronic cases, granulation tissue becomes visible, more often in the young.

Manifestations of Ingrown Toenails

Diagnosis of Ingrown Toenail

  • Clinical evaluation

Redness, swelling, and pain may also suggest concurrent paronychia. In young patients (eg, < 20 years) with recurrent ingrown toenails, x-rays should be considered to exclude underlying osteochondroma Osteochondroma Benign bone tumors include benign giant cell tumors of bone, chondroblastomas, chondromyxoid fibromas, enchondromas, nonossifying fibromas, osteoblastomas, osteochondromas, and osteoid osteomas... read more Osteochondroma . In the absence of an ingrown toenail, apparent granulation tissue around the toe suggests the possibility of amelanotic melanoma, which is often overlooked; biopsy is necessary.

Treatment of Ingrown Toenail

  • Usually nail excision and destruction of adjacent nail matrix

In mild cases, inserting cotton between the ingrown nail plate and painful fold (using a thin toothpick) may provide immediate relief and, if continued, correct the problem. If the shoes are too tight, a larger toe box is indicated.

In most cases, however, particularly with paronychia, excision of part or occasionally all of the ingrown toenail after injecting a local anesthetic is the only effective treatment. After excision, a flexible tube can be used to separate the nail plate and painful fold and allow healing. If ingrown toenails recur, sodium hydroxide or phenol is applied to permanently destroy the nearby lateral nail matrix. Phenol should not be used if there is arterial insufficiency.

Click here for Patient Education
NOTE: This is the Professional Version. CONSUMERS: Click here for the Consumer Version
Professionals also read
Test your knowledge
Pressure Injury
Pressure ulcers (PUs) are defined as areas of necrosis and ulceration where tissues are compressed between bone and hard surfaces, such as a bed or chair. There are many risk factors for PUs, which include age > 65 years, decreased mobility, and impaired sensation, among others. Of the main factors that influence the development of PUs, which of the following contributes to PUs but is not a direct cause?  
Download the Manuals App iOS ANDROID
Download the Manuals App iOS ANDROID
Download the Manuals App iOS ANDROID

Also of Interest