An ingrown toenail is a painful condition of the toe. It occurs when a sharp corner of the toenail digs into the skin at the end of or side of the toe. This “digging in” of the nail irritates the skin, often creating pain, redness, swelling, and warmth in the toe.
If an ingrown nail causes a break in the skin, bacteria may enter and cause an infection in the area, which is often marked by drainage and a foul odor. However, even if your toe isn’t painful, red, swollen, or warm, a nail that curves downward into the skin can progress to an infection.
If left untreated, an ingrown toenail can progress to an infection or even an abscess that requires surgical treatment. Ingrown toenails are common in adults but uncommon in children and infants. Any toenail can become ingrown, but the condition is usually found in the big toe.
Ingrown toenails can develop for various reasons. In many people, the tendency to have this common disorder is inherited. In other cases, an ingrown toenail is the result of trauma, such as stubbing your toe, having an object fall on your toe, or engaging in activities that involve repeated pressure on the toes, such as kicking or running. The most common cause of ingrown toenails is improper trimming. Another cause of ingrown toenails is wearing shoes that are tight or short.
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