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What Happens When You Leave an Ingrown Toenail Untreated?

20th Nov 2023 | 0 comments

Ingrown toenails can be a pesky and painful problem that many people encounter. Whether due to improper nail trimming, tight-fitting shoes, or genetic predisposition, ingrown toenails are a common issue. 

While they may seem relatively harmless initially, ignoring or leaving an ingrown toenail untreated can lead to several unpleasant consequences. In this article, we’ll explore what an ingrown toenail is, what can happen if it’s left without treatment, and the importance of prompt medical attention.

What is an ingrown toenail?

Before delving into the potential complications of untreated ingrown toenails, let’s briefly understand what this condition entails. 

An ingrown toenail, medically known as onychocryptosis, occurs when the sides or corner of a toenail spreads into the surrounding skin. It can result in irritation, redness, swelling, and pain. In some cases, it may even lead to infection.


One of the most serious risks of untreated ingrown toenails is infection. An ingrown nail growing into the skin will pierce it, leaving a wound. This open wound would be exposed to bacteria in the air, making it vulnerable to infection.

An infected ingrown toenail can manifest with symptoms like increased redness, warmth, and tenderness in the affected area. Pus or discharge may also be present. Left unchecked, the infection can spread and become a significant health concern.

Increased pain

Ignoring an ingrown toenail won’t make it disappear; in fact, it’s likely to worsen over time. 

The pain of an ingrown toenail often intensifies as the nail digs into the surrounding skin. Walking or putting pressure on the affected toe can become increasingly uncomfortable, making daily activities a struggle. The discomfort can even interfere with your sleep.

Skin overgrowth

As your body defends itself against the intrusion of the ingrown nail, the surrounding skin may respond by growing over the nail. This overgrowth of skin, called hypergranulation tissue, can create a painful, fleshy mass that can bleed and become infected. 

Not only does this exacerbate the condition of your ingrown toenail, it also complicates potential treatment options.

Change in nail shape

Persistent ingrown toenails can cause a change in the shape of your nail. Over time, the continuous pressure and trauma from the nail can lead to deformities. 

Sometimes, the nail thickens or curves more severely, making it even harder to manage. These changes in nail shape can be long-lasting and may necessitate more invasive treatments.

Impaired mobility

The pain and discomfort associated with untreated ingrown toenails can impair mobility. You may find it difficult to walk or engage in physical activities that you once enjoyed, affecting your quality of life. 

It’s essential to address ingrown toenails promptly to avoid such limitations.

What to do when you have an ingrown toenail

If you or someone you know is dealing with an ingrown toenail, the first step is not to ignore it. Here are some immediate steps to take when you have an ingrown toenail.

  1. Soak your foot: Sink your feet in warm water for fifteen to twenty minutes. Doing this daily can help reduce swelling and alleviate pain.
  2. Trim your nails: Avoid rounding the corners of your nails by trimming them straight across. Doing so can help prevent future ingrown toenails.
  3. Wear comfortable footwear: Opt for shoes that provide ample space for your toes and don’t compress them. Avoid tight-fitting shoes, especially if you already have an ingrown toenail.
  4. Avoid digging or cutting: Do not attempt to dig or cut the ingrown nail yourself, as this can increase the risk of infection.

If your ingrown toenail doesn’t improve with home care or becomes infected, it’s crucial to seek professional medical treatment.

Ingrown toenail treatment options

To address your concerns, your doctor will assess your nail condition before deciding on a treatment method. An ingrown toenail is managed with conservative treatment or a minimally invasive surgery.

Conservative management

In mild cases of ingrown toenails, conservative management may be the initial approach. This can involve:

  • Gentle nail manipulation
  • Advice on nail trimming techniques
  • Recommendations for appropriate footwear

Minimally invasive surgery

For more severe or persistent ingrown toenails, Spire Orthopaedic offers minimally invasive surgery.

Lifting the nail

For a slightly ingrown nail (redness and pain, but no pus), your doctor may gently lift the ingrowing nail edge and place materials like cotton, dental floss, or a splint underneath. This action separates the nail from the overlying skin and encourages the nail to grow above the skin edge.

Partial nail removal

If the ingrown toenail keeps recurring, the nail may be partially removed to prevent it from growing back. Before this procedure, your doctor may temporarily numb your toe with a local anaesthetic.

Removing nail and tissue

If you repeatedly experience the problem on the same toe, your doctor may recommend removing a portion of the nail along with the underlying tissue (nail bed). This comprehensive procedure can prevent that part of your nail from regrowing.

Ingrown toenail treatment in Singapore

An ingrown toenail is not just a minor annoyance but a condition that can lead to complications if left untreated. Infection, increased pain, and impaired mobility are some potential consequences. If you are dealing with ingrown toenails, we advise you to seek medical attention to prevent these complications.

At Spire Orthopaedic, we specialise in treating various orthopaedic conditions, including ingrown toenails. Our experienced medical professionals in Singapore can provide expert care to help you overcome the pain and complications of untreated ingrown toenails.

Book an appointment to treat your ingrown toenail.