Applied Evidence

A practical guide to the care of ingrown toenails

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Choose either a conservative or surgical treatment approach based on severity. The Vandenbos procedure, described here, is an effective surgical option.




A 22-year-old active-duty man presented with left hallux pain, which he had experienced for several years due to an “ingrown toenail.” During the 3 to 4 months prior to presentation, his pain had progressed to the point that he had difficulty with weight-bearing activities. Several weeks prior to evaluation, he tried removing a portion of the nail himself with nail clippers and a pocket knife, but the symptoms persisted.

A skin exam revealed inflamed hypertrophic skin on the medial and lateral border of the toenail without exudate (FIGURE 1A). The patient was given a diagnosis of recurrent onychocryptosis without paronychia. He reported having a similar occurrence 1 to 2 years earlier, which had been treated by his primary care physician via total nail avulsion.

Before and after the Vandenbos procedure

How would you proceed with his care?

Onychocryptosis, also known as an ingrown toenail, is a relatively common condition that can be treated with several nonsurgical and surgical approaches. It occurs when the nail plate punctures the periungual skin, usually on the hallux. Onychocryptosis may be caused by close-trimmed nails with a free edge that are allowed to enter the lateral nail fold. This results in a cascade of inflammatory and infectious processes and may result in paronychia. The inflamed toe skin will often grow over the lateral nail, which further exacerbates the condition. Mild to moderate lesions have limited pain, redness, and swelling with little or no discharge. Moderate to severe lesions have significant pain, redness, swelling, discharge, and/or persistent symptoms despite appropriate conservative therapies.

The condition may manifest at any age, although it is more common in adolescents and young adults. Onychocryptosis is slightly more common in males.1 It may present as a chief complaint, although many cases will likely be discovered incidentally on a skin exam. Although there is no firm evidence of causative factors, possible risk factors include tight-fitting shoes, repetitive activities/sports, poor foot hygiene, hyperhidrosis, genetic predisposition, obesity, and lower-extremity edema.2 Patients often exacerbate the problem with home treatments designed to trim the nail as short as possible. Comparison of symptomatic vs control patients has failed to demonstrate any systematic difference between the nails themselves. This suggests that treatment may not be effective if it is simply directed at controlling nail abnormalities.3,4

Conservative therapy

Conservative therapy should be considered first-line treatment for mild to moderate cases of onychocryptosis. The following are conservative therapy options.5

Proper nail trimming. Advise the patient to allow the nail to grow past the lateral nail fold and to keep it trimmed long so that the overgrowing toe skin cannot encroach on the free edge of the nail. The growth rate of the toenail is approximately 1.62 mm/month—something you may want to mention to the patient so that he or she will have a sense of the estimated duration of therapy.6 Also, the patient may need to implement the following other measures, while the nail is allowed to grow.

Continue to: Skin-softening techniques


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