When Does an Ingrown Toenail Require a Trip to the Podiatrist?

Mar 14, 2023
When Does an Ingrown Toenail Require a Trip to the Podiatrist?
Most of the time, ingrown toenails aren’t a major cause for concern. However, there are instances that require expert care right away. Keep reading to learn when you need to schedule an appointment.

If you’ve had an ingrown toenail, you know they can cause significant discomfort. Fortunately, you can often relieve your symptoms in the comfort of your own home. But, there are situations that warrant a trip to a podiatrist, even if they seem minor.

At Align Foot & Ankle Center in Camarillo and Santa Barbara, California, Hai-En Peng, DPM,FACFAS treats mild to complex conditions in a warm and spa-like environment. Whether you have an ingrown toenail or need foot surgery, our team has the advanced and specialized training required to get you back on your feet again in no time.

Here’s what you should know about ingrown toenails and when they can be a cause for concern.

Ingrown toenail basics

For starters, an ingrown toenail can develop on any toe, but they’re most common on the big toe. And, as the name implies, they occur when the toenail begins growing into the tender surrounding flesh. This is often due to two reasons: incorrect nail trimming or shoes that don’t fit properly.

Incorrect nail trimming

Believe it or not, there’s a right way and a wrong way to cut your toenails. First, it’s essential to cut your toenails straight across and never round them. If you cut your toenails so they're rounded, this could allow a toenail to dig into your skin at some point.

And, while shorter may seem better, it’s crucial not to cut them too short. Instead, leave enough nail so the corners rest loosely on the surrounding skin, not pressed into it. 

Shoes that don’t fit properly

Do you wear tight shoes? They could be putting pressure on your toes. When this occurs, they can press your nail into your flesh, leading to an ingrown toenail. To avoid this issue, wear shoes that fit comfortably and provide plenty of room for your toes.

Other factors that increase your chances for ingrown toenails include:

  • Having sweaty feet
  • Playing sports with a lot of running or kicking
  • Underlying health problems, such as diabetes

In most cases, the first sign of an issue involves pain along one or both sides of the nail, as well as swelling, redness, or tenderness.

Home care for ingrown toenails

An ingrown toenail can be quite painful. However, they often respond to self-care treatments, such as the following:

  • Soaking your foot in warm water for 15-20 minutes, 3-4 times a day
  • Applying antibiotic cream
  • Wearing loose-fitting or open-toed shoes
  • Lifting the cleansed nail with waxed dental floss or fresh cotton
  • Taping the nail to help it grow away from the skin
  • Taking over-the-counter pain relievers

While most ingrown toenails respond to these treatments, some may require a visit with Dr. Peng at Align Foot & Ankle Center.

When to see a podiatrist

The most obvious reason to schedule an appointment is your symptoms — specifically, severe pain or discomfort that doesn’t respond to home care treatments. It’s also vital to see an expert if your symptoms seem to worsen, especially if they spread or include blood or oozing pus.


Furthermore, you should always see a podiatrist for any foot issue, including ingrown toenails, if you have diabetes or other circulatory problems. These conditions can significantly increase your risk for dangerous complications from foot issues, even those that may seem minor. That’s because poor circulation impacts blood flow to the feet, so it can be harder for the body to fight infection and heal. 

In addition to poor circulation, diabetes can lead to nerve damage in the feet. If this occurs, relatively harmless issues could go undetected until they become severe, because you may not feel the issue. And, unfortunately, an infected ingrown toenail can lead to bone infection, which could put you at risk of developing foot complications, such as gangrene and amputation.

The good news is that you can often avoid ingrown toenails by trimming your toenails correctly and wearing shoes that fit properly. It’s also wise to check your feet each day for signs of an issue, especially if you have diabetes or other circulatory problems.

Do you have an ingrown toenail and want treatment? We can help. To get the care you need, book an appointment online or over the phone with Align Foot & Ankle Center today.