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Is My Ingrown Toenail Infected?

An ingrown toenail develops when a small piece of the nail, or nail spicule, pierces the surrounding skin and begins to grow into the skin, instead of growing out independently alongside the skin. It doesn’t take a big piece of nail to cause you tremendous pain and irritation – think of it like a sharp splinter that gets deeper and gets irritated when you walk or wear closed-in shoes.


The key here is that an ingrown toenail has pierced and entered the skin, as opposed to just rubbing against the skin and causing painful friction. This means that it has created an open wound – even if it’s all the way down the side of the nail. Wherever there is a wound or an opening of the skin, the risk of infection is also always close by – and it may be even closer in this case given the proximity of our feet to the ground and the dirt it carries.


If you’re wondering if the severe pain you’re experiencing from your ingrown toenail is because it’s infected – or if it’s just a deep nail spicule – today we’ve shared some simple signs that may indicate that you have an infection and need more help.


What does an infected ingrown toenail look like?

If your ingrown toenail is infected, you may notice:

  • Clear or yellow discharge coming from the side of the nail
  • Bleeding from the side of the nail
  • Swollen, overgrown or inflamed tissue around the edge of the toenail
  • If an abscess develops, you’ll notice a yellow/white fluid-filled pocket
  • Redness around the side of the nail


What does an infected ingrown toenail feel like?


  • Pain and tenderness around the toenail, especially with the application of any pressure
  • Throbbing at the toenail
  • Heat or warmth around the nail
  • It may feel as if there’s pressure building up beneath the nail


What does an infected ingrown toenail smell like?

Infected ingrown toenails do tend to have a foul or unpleasant smell – which isn’t something that you’d expect from a regular ingrown toenail.


Why infected ingrown toenails are dangerous

Infected ingrown toenails can pose a risk to your health because if your body does not fight off and clear the infection, it can spread or harbour a secondary infection. This may result in the infection spreading to the bone, which is a serious complication and requirements immediate treatment – it may even require surgery.


If you’re unsure – always seek help

It can be difficult to tell an infected ingrown toenail from a non-infected toenail because even without infection, ingrown toenails can swell, and become red and painful. It’s always best to stay safe and put your health first, seeking help at any time that you suspect you may have an infection.


How should you treat an infected ingrown toenail?

Simply put – by seeing your podiatrist! Once an ingrown toenail becomes infected, it requires prompt and effective treatment to both manage the infection and the problem – so that the wound can heal and another infection doesn’t develop.


Here at Perform Podiatry, we treat ingrown toenails in one of three ways:


  • Conservative nail care – for first time ingrown toenails, we remove the offending nail spicule if it doesn’t look like the nail will re-grow back and keep causing you pain
  • Partial nail avulsion – for recurring ingrown toenails, we remove the nail spicule permanently, using a chemical to prevent the problematic edge of the nail from growing back in the future
  • Total nail avulsion – for recurring ingrown toenails that have a secondary problem, like a thickened, damaged or distorted nail – or one with a fungal infection too – we can perform a total nail avulsion. This involves removing the entire nail and allowing it to grow back naturally hopefully without the previous issues.


Worried your ingrown toenail may be infected?

If you need help with a problematic ingrown toenail, our team can help. We’re proud to be one of Auckland’s leading podiatry teams, located within the One Health Building on Remuera Road. Ingrown toenails are one of our specialities. 


Book your appointment by calling 09 523 2333 or book online.


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About the author

Hanan Kane