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Anyone who has ever had an ingrown toenail can attest that they're extremely uncomfortable, even if they're usually a minor inconvenience. However, ingrown toenails can cause serious issues for people with diabetes, circulatory problems, or nerve issues. These individuals are less likely to notice when a nail becomes ingrown, which can result in a serious infection.

Ingrown toenails are the cause of approximately 20% of foot-related doctor visits. Most can be treated at home, but an infected toe can require medical care or even surgical treatment. Luckily, there are some relatively easy ways to prevent ingrown toenails in the first place.

What Is an Ingrown Toenail?

An ingrown toenail occurs when the sides of the nail grow into the skin that surrounds the nail. Once the nail pierces the skin, it can cause pain, inflammation, and swelling. In the worst cases, the toe can also become infected. An ingrown toenail is most likely to occur on the big toe, but it can happen to any of the nails.

ingrown toenail on the toe, toe on the leg with psoriasis of the nail, medical illustration Ilia Anatolev / Getty Images

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Trim Toenails Evenly

One common cause of ingrown toenails is a nail cut too short or cut to follow the curve of the toe. Trimming nails straight across, so that they’re even with the tips of the toes, can help prevent ingrowing. Toenail clippers are designed to cut straight for this reason; using fingernail clippers, which are typically slightly curved, can damage these nails and increase the chances of getting an ingrown toenail.

toenails being cut PansLaos / Getty Images

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Avoid Tight Shoes

Wearing shoes that are too tight can cause toenail issues. Tight shoes that put pressure on the toes or pinch them together can force toenails to grow improperly, sometimes into the surrounding skin. Wearing shoes that leave some space between the end of the toes and the inside of the shoe can help.

Ideally, your toes should be able to sit flat in your shoes and have enough room to wiggle and spread a bit.

Female runner tying her shoes preparing for a jog outside at morning Tomwang112 / Getty Images

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Avoid Tight Socks

Just as with shoes, wearing socks or stockings that are too tight can result in pressure on the toes and the skin around them. Restrictive socks can press the toes against one another and put enough pressure on the toenail to cause it to grow into the skin.

Socks that are too heavy for the conditions and cause excessive sweating can also play a role in softening the skin around toenails. Wearing the right socks helps prevent injury.

Women at locker room getting ready for training M_a_y_a / Getty Images

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Keep Feet Dry

When the skin around the toenails is moist, there is a higher chance of the toenail piercing that skin. People whose feet sweat a lot should ensure that they are regularly cleaning and drying their feet, particularly the areas around the toes.

Leaving toes sweaty and moist increases the risk of getting an ingrown nail, not to mention other issues like fungus growth.

Woman taking self pedicure at home invizbk / Getty Images

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Let Feet Go Au Natural

Nearly everyone participates in activities that require wearing tight shoes once in a while, whether it’s snug soccer shoes or an elegant pair of heels. That’s typically fine in moderation. One way to lessen the impact of tighter shoes is to go barefoot for a few hours after wearing them, giving the feet and toes enough space to stretch out.

Close up of unrecognizable mature couple walking barefoot in the backyard. skynesher / Getty Images

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Wear Protective Footwear

Ingrown toenails can result from traumatic toe injuries like stubbing your toe, dropping something heavy on your foot, or playing sports that put consistent pressure on the toes. Wearing protective footwear, like steel-toed shoes, can help prevent ingrown toenails for people whose job puts them at increased risk of foot injuries. Athletes who play sports that encourage participants to wear tighter shoes can seek out shoes with a wider toe area, or take advantage of wearing looser (or no) shoes when they aren't playing.

Close up of legs and feet of football player in blue socks and shoes running and dribbling with the ball. Soccer player running after the ball. Sports venue in the background matimix / Getty Images

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Inspect Regularly

This may seem like an obvious step, but especially for people who are prone to ingrown toenails or have diabetes, it’s important to regularly inspect toes and toenails. People with diabetes may have lost enough sensitivity in their feet as to be unable to feel an injury.

Checking the feet may not prevent an ingrown toenail from occurring, but it can help speed up treatment if one has occurred and prevent it from getting worse.

Podiatrist treating feet during procedure Inside Creative House / Getty Images

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Be Aware of Genetics

Hereditary and genetic factors can play a role in the development of ingrown toenails. People with certain bone deformities or with flat feet are more likely to suffer from an ingrown nail. A family history of ingrown toenails is also associated with increased risk.

If any of these risk factors relate to you, make an effort to apply some of the methods on this list to avoid preventable pain or infection.

Close up of a barefoot family relaxing together in the living room. skynesher/ Getty Images

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Home Treatment

There are some simple, at-home treatment options available to people who develop an ingrown toenail. These include:

  • Soaking feet in warm water several times a day
  • Washing regularly with soap and water to prevent infection
  • Wearing comfortable or open-toed shoes
  • Placing cotton under the edge of the nail
  • Applying antiseptic ointment

In most cases, home treatment is all the toe will need. People with diabetes or circulatory conditions, however, should consult a healthcare provider if they develop an ingrown toenail. Likewise, if any ingrown toenail worsens or signs of infection appear, like pus, swelling, or lasting warmth in the area, see a doctor.

Man soaking his feet in a washbowl. sb-borg / Getty Images

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Disclaimer

This site offers information designed for educational purposes only. You should not rely on any information on this site as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or as a substitute for, professional counseling care, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about your health, you should always consult with a physician or other healthcare professional.