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What are Ingrown Toenails?

An ingrown toenail occurs when the top corner or side of your toenail grows into the flesh next to it. It happens most commonly on your big toe.

Common causes of ingrown toenails include:

  • wearing shoes that are too tight around your toe
  • cutting your toenails too short or with too much of a curve
  • toe or toenail injury
  • toenail naturally grows into a curve
  • Many ingrown toenails can be successfully treated with home care. But if you have complications, such as a skin infection, or if you get a lot of ingrown toenails, surgery may help. People with diabetes or other conditions that affect the foot may be more likely to need surgery.

What is ingrown toenail surgery?

Your doctor may recommend ingrown toenail surgery if:

  • at-home remedies don’t resolve your ingrown toenail
  • you have recurring ingrown toenails
  • you have another condition such as diabetes that makes complications more likely

Part of your toenail or the full toenail may need to be removed, depending on your situation.
To prepare you for surgery, your doctor will first clean and numb your toe with an anesthetic injection. This can be quite uncomfortable. A snug elastic band may be applied to the area near where your toe joins your foot. They may put a wedge under your nail to hold up the ingrown section.
Once you’re prepped, the doctor will use scissors and special tools to separate your toenail from the bed, making a vertical cut from the ingrown side down to the cuticle. They’ll then remove the cut section. If necessary, the entire nail may be removed, particularly if both sides of your nail are ingrown.
Your doctor will use either a heated electrical device called a cautery or an acidic solution such as phenol or trichloroacetic acid to disrupt the nail matrix from which your nail grows. This stops your nail from bleeding. It also means that section of your nail likely won’t regrow. If it does regrow, your nail may look differently than it did before surgery.
Finally, your doctor will typically apply a bandage covered with petroleum jelly to your toe.