Ingrown Toenail

Prevention & Treatment

What causes ingrown toenails?

Ingrown toenails occur when the edge of a toenail (usually the big toe) grows down into the skin fold at the edge of the nail.  This causes pain and swelling.   It can also lead to a secondary bacterial infection.

Toenails can become ingrown if the nail is injured or cut too short, particularly if the nail is also very curved at the edges.  Being on your feet a lot seems to increase the chance of ingrown toenails especially if you wear shoes that are too tight or very narrow at the toe. Some people are just born with toenails that have this tendency, too.


What can I do about my ingrown toenail?

If symptoms are mild, try these things:

  • Soak your toe in warm water for 15-20 minutes a few times a day to soften the skin and nail.
  • After each soak, gently lift up a little at the corner of the nail to loosen it from the skin.
  • With tweezers, try to push a small bit of cotton under the loosened nail to keep it loose. Leave the cotton and remove it before the next soak.


What if it doesn’t go away?

Call Student Health and Wellness to make an appointment.

  • You may need antibiotics if your toe is infected.
  • You may also need minor surgery to remove the ingrown part of the toenail.

Check your health insurance.

  • Make sure the procedure is covered and can be done at Student Health and Wellness.
  • For specific billing & insurance information, call our Insurance Office at (860) 486-4535.


What is the procedure to remove an ingrown nail?

  • The procedure appointment is scheduled for one hour.  Make the appointment at the end of your day if possible so you can rest your foot afterwards.  Bring loose comfortable shoes to wear home.
  • First, the toe is cleaned with disinfectant. Next, the entire toe is numbed by injecting lidocaine, a local anesthetic, into the sides of the toe near the joint. Then, the ingrown part of the nail is cut out and the exposed nail bed treated with a strong chemical called phenol to help prevent the nail from growing back in.  Sometimes inflamed skin at the nail edge is removed or cauterized or any excess bleeding cauterized.  Lastly, the toe is bandaged.

What do I do after the procedure is done?

  • Most people can walk or drive home after the procedure, but it’s easier if you have a ride or we can call the Accessible Van to give you a ride back to your dorm.  You can borrow crutches from us if needed, but few people do.  Any pain can usually be controlled with over-the-counter medications like Tylenol or ibuprofen.  Call us if these don’t help enough.
  • Rest with your foot elevated the rest of that day if you need to.  You can resume regular activities in a day or two, but don’t do strenuous exercise until it is comfortable to do so, usually within a week.
  • You either need to change the bandage yourself in a day or two or come back to student health for us to change it.  The toe is usually rechecked in 1-2 weeks.


What are the risks of the procedure & what happens if I don’t have it done?

  • The risks of the procedure are very small.  There could be excessive bleeding, especially if you have a bleeding disorder, so tell us about that.  There is a risk of spreading an infection but this risk is minimized by putting you on antibiotics ahead of time if needed.
  • If you don’t have the procedure, the toenail may stay sore and swollen or with careful home care as described before, you may get rid of the ingrown nail without any surgery.  It could also get more ingrown and infected if not already infected.

How can I prevent ingrown toenails?

  • Wear shoes that are not too tight or narrow around the toes.
  • Cut toenails straight across. Don’t round off the corners.
  • Keep the toenail somewhat long, not super short.
  • If you cut a small “V” notch in the center of the nail it might help keep the nail from growing into the sides of the toe.