12 Warning Signs of an Infected Toenail

Ingrown toenails are a common problem but that doesn’t mean you should ignore them. Take heed of the warning signs to avoid developing an infected toenail.

Does every step leave your foot aching in pain? You may want to get that checked out.

20% of people who see a doctor about foot problems have an ingrown toenail.

Instead of letting the problem get worse, know the warning signs. In this guide, we’ll review the causes, symptoms, and treatment options for an infected toenail. If you ignore these signs, however, the infection could spread.

Take action if you notice these warning signs of an infected toenail.

The Causes

A bacterium is often the main cause of an infected toenail. A fungus may have infected the toenail as well. When the skin around the toenail is infected, it’s called paronychia.

An ingrown toenail infection often occurs in the big toe.

Patients with diabetes or peripheral arterial disease are more likely to experience ingrown toenails. These patients may also experience severe complications after developing an infection.

If you believe you have an ingrown toenail infection, it may have been caused if you:

You can pick up a fungus from moist areas such as gym showers and locker rooms. If you’re a swimmer, the water may have also infected your toe.

People are more likely to pick up an infection if they have diabetes. High blood sugar levels can damage your blood vessels. This makes it more difficult for your body to fight off infections.

Diabetic nerve damage can also make it more difficult for you to feel a minor trauma. If you ignore pain around your foot for too long, it could lead to an infected toenail.

The Symptoms

18% of U.S. adults age 21 and older (40 million people) have experienced ingrown toenail. Unfortunately, many people don’t know to associate their symptoms with an ingrown toenail infection.

Usually, ingrown toenails start with minor symptoms. With time, these symptoms can escalate into bigger problems. Remember, leaving an ingrown toenail untreated can also lead to severe complications following the infection.

Here are a few of the warning signs to keep a look out for.

If you notice any of these signs of an infected toenail, seek help immediately. Left undetected, an infected toenail could cause a serious infection.

If you have diabetes, a minor foot injury may not heal properly. Make sure to visit a healthcare professional before these smaller injuries lead to a possible infection.

The Treatment

There are a few at-home ingrown toenail treatments you can try.

First, try soaking your feet in warm water. Consider using Epsom salt or coarse salt to soften your feet.

Repeat this three to four times a day for 15-minute intervals. Soaking your feet can reduce the swelling. It also relieves tenderness and helps the pus drain out.

You should experience some pain relief after soaking your feet.

Next, try placing a cotton ball or waxed dental floss under the edge of the ingrown toenail. This will help your nail grow above the skin.

You can also purchase an antibiotic cream. Place the ointment on the infected area. Then, bandage your toe to protect it from outside sources.

Make sure you’re wearing sensible footwear as well. Instead of squeezing your toe into a tight pair of shoes, wear open-toed shoes or sandals. You can switch back to your favorite pair of shoes after your toe feels better.

If the pain is unbearable, try taking pain relievers. These can include acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or naproxen sodium.

After trying these at-home treatments, watch your feet. If the infection doesn’t dissipate after a few days, make sure to see a doctor.


Here are a few tips to help you prevent experiencing an ingrown toenail infection in the future.


First, trim your toenails straight across. Many people try to curve their nails to match the shape of their big toe.

If you go to a salon to get your toenails done, make sure to tell your pedicurist to trim the nail straight across. Meanwhile, consider visiting a podiatrist regularly to have your nails trimmed if you can’t trim your nails alone. This includes patients with a condition that causes poor blood flow to the feet.

Make sure your toenails are kept at a moderate length as well.

Trim your nails so they’re even with the tips of your toes.

Cutting your nails too short can cause your shoes to press against the nails. This pressure can cause the nail to grow into the tissue.


Next, check your footwear. Make sure your shoes all fit properly.

Shoes that place too much pressure on your toes can cause nails to grow into the surrounding tissue.

People with nerve damage around the feet might not recognize their shoes fit too tightly. When you buy shoes, visit a shoe store that specializes in fitting shoes for people with foot problems.

You might also choose to wear protective footwear.

This is important if you have a job that puts your feet at risk. If there’s a chance your toes could get injured, consider buying steel-toed shoes.

Check Often

In the meantime, check your feet regularly.

Take note of any of the warning signs of an infected toenail we mentioned above. See your doctor immediately if you notice these signs.

If you’re a diabetes patient, check your feet daily for signs of an infected toenail.

Leaving your infected toenail untreated could cause the infection to spread. When an infection reaches underlying bone, it can also cause a serious bone infection.

Checking your feet regularly can help you avoid ingrown toenails and other foot problems.

Toe the Line: 12 Warning Signs of an Infected Toenail

Now that you know the warning signs of an infected toenail, keep a look out! Visit your doctor if at-home treatment doesn’t work. Otherwise, the infection could spread.

Request an appointment with us today to keep an infection from spreading.

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