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Ingrown Toenails (Onychocryptosis, Unguis Incarnatus)

What Is an Ingrown Toenail?

An ingrown toenail, also known as onychocryptosis or unguis incarnatus, is a painful condition of the toe. It occurs when a sharp corner or edge of the toenail digs into the skin at the end of or side of the toe. Pain and inflammation at the spot where the nail curls into the skin occurs first. Later, the inflamed area can begin to grow extra tissue or drain yellowish fluid.

  • If left untreated, an ingrown toenail can progress to an infection or even an abscess that could require surgical treatment.
  • Ingrown toenails are common in adults and adolescents but less common in children and infants. They are more common in men than in women. Young adults in their 20s or 30s are most at risk.
  • Any nail can become ingrown, but the condition is usually found in the big toe.

What Are Common Causes and Risk Factors of an Ingrown Toenail?

  • Tight-fitting shoes or high heels cause the toes to be compressed together and pressure the nail to grow abnormally.
  • Improper trimming of toenails can cause the corners of the nail to dig into the skin. Nails should be trimmed straight across, not rounded.
  • Disorders such as fungal infections of the nail can cause a thickened or widened toenail to develop.
  • Either an acute injury near the nail or any trauma that causes the nail to be damaged repetitively (such as playing soccer) can also cause an ingrown nail.
  • If a member of your family has an ingrown toenail, then you are more likely to develop one, too. Some people's nails are normally more rounded than others or the underlying bone can be more "upturned," which increases the chance of developing ingrown nails.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 9/11/2017

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Patient Comments & Reviews

The eMedicineHealth doctors ask about Ingrown Toenails:

Ingrown Toenails - Surgery

Please share your experience with your ingrown toenail surgery.

Ingrown Toenails - Symptoms and Signs

What symptoms and signs did you experience with ingrown toenails?

Ingrown Toenails - Effective Treatment

What treatment has been effective for your ingrown toenails?

Treatments for ingrown toenails include OTC nail products and surgery.

Ingrown Toenail Treatments

A number of over-the-counter treatments for ingrown toenails are available. These topical nail products may contain botanical ingredients like menthol and tea tree oil to decrease inflammation. Other topical agents may contain salicylic acid, which relieves pain and softens nails. Over-the-counter remedies should not be used by those who have diabetes, poor circulation, or an infection of the foot.


Read What Your Physician is Reading on Medscape

Toenail, Ingrown »

Ingrown toenails (unguis incarnatus) are a common toenail problem of uncertain etiology.

Read More on Medscape Reference »


Medical Dictionary