ZocdocAnswersWhat causes an ingrown toenail to become infected?

Question

What causes an ingrown toenail to become infected?

What makes an ingrown toenail get infected? I've had plenty of ingrown toenails before, but until recently they never became infected. Now it's happened several times, and I just want to make sure it doesn't happen again.

Answer

Ingrown toenails occur when the toenail grows into the skin folds at the sides of the nail. This is most commonly caused by improper trimming of the toenails, but other causes may include a genetic predisposition, recurrent trauma to the nail, or fungal infections causing nail distortion. As the nail grows into the surrounding skin, the body will reacts with an inflammatory response. This response will produces some redness, pain, and likely a small amount of yellowish drainage. This is not necessarily an infection, although if the redness spreads and the drainage becomes more puslike than an infection is a possibility. Basically, ingrown toenails have a continuum of severity ranging from painless to reddened with minimal drainage to infected with puslike drainage. Unless the infection is severe or a large puslike pocket forms, the same methods can be used as are used for simpler ingrown toenails, included soaks, good shoes, and topical antibiotic cream. In order to prevent future ingrown nails from becoming more severe, it is also important to avoid squeezing, picking at, or lifting up the edge of the affected skin fold, as these all increase the chance that bacteria will get in. Any severe pain, redness, swelling, or fever of course should be evaluated by your primary care doctor or podiatrist.

This answer is for general informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice.

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