What Will Happen if You Leave an Ingrown Toenail Untreated?

Medically Reviewed on 12/15/2020

If left untreated, an ingrown toenail can tear the skin exposing the skin to bacteria.
If left untreated, an ingrown toenail can tear the skin exposing the skin to bacteria.

When a toenail grows inward instead of growing outward normally, it curves and grows into the skin. This irritates the skin and can cause pain, swelling, redness, and tenderness around the nail bed and sides of the nail. This painful condition of the toenail is known as onychocryptosis.

If left untreated, an ingrown toenail can tear the skin exposing the skin to bacteria. This can lead to an infection that is marked by pus and bad odor. In severe cases, it may result in loss of the nail and painful swelling of the tip of the toes.

What are the causes of ingrown toenails?

Ingrown toenails are most commonly caused by trauma such as:

  • Stubbing of the toe
  • A heavy object falling on the toe
  • Repeated pressure on the toes caused by the following:
    • Long periods of running
    • Shoes that are much smaller in size
    • Shoes with high heels

Other causes are as follows:

What is the treatment of ingrown toenails?

Ingrown toenails can often be treated at home initially. Here are a few self-care tips:

  • Soak your foot in the water at room temperature. An over-the-counter Epsom salt powder that reduces the inflammation can be dissolved in the water.
  • Use a topical antibiotic ointment and cover it with a bandage.
  • Wear roomy footwear.

Few things to keep in mind:

  • Do not cut the nail repeatedly as that can cause the condition to worsen over time.
  • Over-the-counter creams that contain pain medications may just reduce the pain, but they do not treat the underlying problem.

If you suffer from health conditions such as diabetes, numbness of legs, or have problems in your blood circulation, you should consult the doctor before self-treating yourself.

After examining the toe, the foot and ankle surgeon or a dermatologist will decide the most appropriate treatment for you.

Antibiotics pills may be prescribed if you have developed an infection due to the ingrown nail.

The surgeon may perform a minor surgical procedure known as partial nail avulsion, in which the affected side of the nail is removed. A bandage will be applied to the wound, and you can go home on the same day of the procedure.

How can you prevent ingrown toenails?

It is easy to avoid getting an ingrown toenail. Here is what you should do:

  • Soak the nails in water before cutting them
  • Cut nails in a fairly straight line without rounding them at the top
  • Do not cut the nails too short
  • Do not tear the nails
  • Wear proper-fitting shoes (neither too tight nor too loose)


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Medically Reviewed on 12/15/2020
Ingrown Toenail. Available at: https://www.foothealthfacts.org/conditions/ingrown-toenail

Ingrown Toenail. Available at: https://emedicine.medscape.com/article/828072-overview