How To Spot An Ingrown Toenail Early

December 10, 2021

So you’ve got toe pain starting but you’re not sure if it’s an ingrown toenail. What are the signs you should be looking for if it’s an ingrown toenail and what else could be the cause of your toe pain? Our ingrown nail specialists share what we look for in an early ingrown toenail.

What Does An Ingrown Toenail Look Like In The Early Stages?

When an ingrown nail first starts, it means that a sharp edge or spicule from the nail has recently pierced and penetrated the skin next to the spicule – even just slightly. This means that when any pressure is put on the nail, whether from being squeezed, from footwear, or even the natural vibrations through the feet when we walk, we can feel pain or discomfort. As the nail spicule has only recently pierced the skin, the skin surrounding the nail may not be red or inflamed, like is typically pictured in images of ingrown nails. The location of the nail spicule may be deep down in the nail, or toward the top of the nail in the corner  – this really depends on where the spicule or sharp edge developed. Often, the spicule is deep down the side of the nail, deeper than the eye can see, meaning at the early stages it’s barely noticeable. What may give an ingrown toenail away in the early stages in a build-up of callus down the side of the nail – this can indicate that the nail edge has been rubbing against the skin for some time, and has finally penetrated. All in all, an ingrown nail in the early stages may not look so different from an unaffected nail. You can still have an ingrown toenail without any bleeding, swelling, redness or any discharge from the toe. The key is the pain when pinching the toe – if you get sharp, localised pain when pinching the toe, it could be the start of an ingrown toenail. 

When Ingrown Nails Get Worse

As your ingrown nail gets worse, you can expect to see swelling and redness. The swelling is a catch-22 – the more swelling, the more the skin pushes against the nail and the deeper the nail enters the skin, which causes more swelling. The swelling will be present on the side of the nail where the nail has grown into the skin. If you have swelling on both sides of the nail, two of the sides have ingrown, which is not uncommon if the cause of the ingrown toenail is linked to a curved nail shape, among other causes. Sometimes, multiple toes can have ingrown toenails at the same time. You may also notice:
  • Increasing pain at the toe, especially when squeezed
  • It becomes difficult to wear tighter shoes that push on the toes
  • Clear or yellow discharge from the ingrown nail site, which can indicate an infection
  • Bleeding from the ingrown nail site

If It’s Not An Ingrown Toenail, What Else Could It Be?

While ingrown nails are usually distinctive and common, similar toe pain can also because by:
  • Callus build up on the toe, by the nail, but without the nail piercing the skin
  • A foreign body like a splinter piercing the skin at the toe
  • Damage to the nail and nail bed from trauma – like from stubbing your toe
  • Toe fracture, which affects the toe bone beneath
  • A cyst or a clogged sweat gland may be present in the area

What Should I Do If I Think I Have An Early Stage Ingrown Toenail?

An ingrown toenail caught in the early stages is the perfect time to nip it in the bud and treat it – before it gets worse. Leaving an ingrown toenail without care will lead to the inevitable – as your toenail naturally grows, the nail spicule or sharp edge will grow deeper into the skin, amplifying your symptoms. Treating it early saves you a lot of pain from the inflammation and symptoms that follow. Treating your ingrown toenail should be done professionally – and is our area of expertise. We love early ingrown toenails because thanks to our state-of-the-art tools, we can get it quickly, safely, easily and relatively painlessly compared to a late-stage ingrown toenail. If you’re concerned about pain, we also have the option of numbing the area too. We’ll also discuss the likely reasons that your ingrown nail has occurred, and what you can do to reduce the likelihood of it happening again in the future. We also have permanent treatments to stop the nail edge from growing back into the skin – we’ll discuss all your options at your consultation. Book your appointment by calling us on 09 523 2333 or book online.