Ingrown Toenail Infection

Infected Ingrown Toenails

Infected ingrown toenails or “Onychocryptosis” happens when you trim your toenails too short, particularly on the sides of your big toes. They are gross and they can get infected and that’s when they’re painful.

Causes of overgrown toenails

Ingrown toenails occur in both men and women. Older people may also be at higher risk because toenails thicken with age.

Many things can cause an infected ingrown toenail, including:

  • Cutting toenails straight across
  • Curved toenails
  • Shoes that put pressure on the big toes
  • Socks that are too tight
  • Toenail injury, including stubbing, dropping something heavy on your foot, or kicking a ball repeatedly
  • Poor posture
  • Bad foot hygiene
  • Genetic predisposition

Runners are especially prone to infected ingrown toenails because of the pressure put on your feet for long periods of time, like a marathon training run.

Symptoms of infected ingrown toenails

When you first have an ingrown toenail, it may be:

infected ingrown toenails
  • Hard
  • Swollen
  • Tender to the touch

If left untreated, it may get:

  • Red
  • Infected
  • Feels very sore and painful

Any toenails can become ingrown, but more often it affects the big toe.

Why do toenails become ingrown? 

An ingrown nail occurs when the skin on one or both sides of a nail grows over the edges of the nail. In some cases, it's when the nail itself grows directly into the skin. Pain and swelling at the corner of the nail may result and infection with small amounts of pus can also be seen draining from the area.

Diagnosis of infected ingrown toenails

Your doctor will most likely be able to diagnose your toe just by look at how gross it looks. If your toe seems infected, you might need an X-ray to determine the depth the nail has grown into the skin. An X-ray can also see if it was caused by an injury.


If your toe is just too damn ugly, you may want to treat it at home, try these remedies:

  • Soak your feet in warm water for about 15 – 20 minutes, 3 to 4x per day
  • Push the skin away from the toenail edge with a cotton ball
  • Take over-the-counter drugs, like acetaminophen (Tylenol), or ibuprofen (Advil) for the pain
  • Apply topical antibiotic creams and ointments, such as polymyxin and neomycin (the main ingredients in Neosporin) or a steroid cream, to prevent infection

Give this a try for a few days. If the pain is unbearable or you find it hard to walk or do normal daily activities, go see your doctor.

If the toenail does not respond to home treatments or an infection occurs, you may need surgery. In cases of infection, stop all home treatments and see your doctor.

Preventing infected ingrown toenails

Infected ingrown toenails can be prevented by making a few changes to your lifestyle:

  • Trim your toenails straight across, make sure that the edges do not curve in
  • Don’t cut toenails too short
  • Wear proper-fitting shoes and socks
  • If your toenails are abnormally curved or thick, surgery may be the only way to prevent ingrown nails from becoming infected.