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What Will Happen If An Ingrown Toenail Is Left Untreated?

Every so often, we have a patient come to our clinic with a severe ingrown toenail that had started weeks ago – or sometimes even months ago. The reason for waiting so long in pain? They were waiting for it to grow out.

Truthfully, the idea that an ingrown toenail will just ‘grow out’ if it’s left for long enough is inaccurate – and has led many people to endure a lot of pain. Here’s what really happens when you leave your ingrown toenail untreated.


The Nail Will Keep Growing Deeper Into The Skin

Given that the hard nail sits on top of our toe, it’s easy to think that the painful ingrown area is along the surface of the nail too, and so will easily grow out in time, taking the pain away with it. In most of the cases we see, the reality is quite different. The ingrown portion of the nail, which we call the nail spicule, is usually located quite deep down the side of the nail – often much deeper beneath the swollen skin than you can visibly see. Waiting for your nail to grow out then means driving this nail spicule deeper into an already tender toe. 

Given that toenails grow much slower than fingernails at an average rate of 1.62mm per month, and you may have multiple centimetres of skin to go through, this can mean months of severe pain, difficulty wearing shoes – and the risk of infection.


Your Toe Can Become Infected

 An ingrown toenail is when the nail spicule has pierced your skin, leaving an open wound. Open wounds are susceptible to infection for the entire time before they heal, and given the proximity of the feet to the dirtier ground, you’re left with a significant risk of infection and further pain.

Treating infections isn’t always as simple as picking up a script for antibiotics, either. While antibiotics can treat simple infections, if your infection spreads to the toe bone or becomes complicated, antibiotics may not be enough, and you may develop conditions like gangrene, sepsis or osteonecrosis (bone death).


The Vicious Cycle

Another problem with leaving ingrown toenails untreated is the snowballing cycle of pain and swelling. When an ingrown nail first starts, it grows into the skin, swelling develops. The swelling puts more pressure on the nail, driving the ingrown spicule deeper into the nail. As it grows deeper, the swelling continues and may worsen, further aggravating the problem.


Ingrown Toenails Can Only Heal Once The Nail Spicule Is Removed

The only way to stop the swelling/pain cycle, remove the risk of infection, and stop the problem worsening is to remove the often small nail spicule from the skin. Once it is removed, the skin can heal, the swelling can go down, and you can get back to painless walking.


How Are Ingrown Toenails Treated?

Here at the Auckland Ingrown Toenail Clinic, our experienced podiatrists make treating ingrown toenails easy, simple and painless. Using local anaesthetic (if you want it), we remove the offending nail edge from where it is lodged in the skin, trimming that part of the nail that often lies deep beyond where you can see without the right instruments and experience. 

We can either do this as a one-off, best suited for first-time ingrown toenails that are unlikely to come back, or as a permanent solution, taking extra steps to stop the problematic nail edge from growing back again – and eliminating the risk of another ingrown toenail in the future. Read about both of these services here


Don’t Delay Treatment

The faster you have your ingrown nail treated, the better for your health and easier for your recovery. Book your appointment by calling 09 523 2333 or book your appointment online.



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About the author

Hanan Kane