Is My Ingrown Toenail Infected?

Whether the clippers slipped and you trimmed your toenails too short or at an angle, or you injured your nail (including simple toe-stubbing or wearing tight-fitting shoes), your toenail may follow a different path as it grows. And that path may lead down into the skin at the edge of your nail. What you have here is a classic ingrown toenail.

Breaching the skin opens the door for infection, especially in the warm, damp environment of your shoes and socks. In addition to the immediate pain and other symptoms, an infected ingrown toenail can cause some serious complications.

To help you avoid that, Dr. Daniel Preece and Dr. Darren Groberg, our expert podiatrists at Utah Musculoskeletal Specialists in Salt Lake City, Utah, offer effective treatments to get rid of the infection and correct the toenail growth pattern. 

Here are some of the sure signs your ingrown toenail has become infected.

Signs of an ingrown toenail

Ingrown toenails hurt. As the edge of your nail digs into your flesh, you’re sure to feel the pain. You may also have:

You may even notice a change in your gait as you make adjustments to avoid putting pressure on the affected toe. Over time, this could lead to pain in your legs, hips, and back.

Signs of an infected ingrown toenail

In addition to a red, swollen toe, your symptoms get worse when your toe gets infected. Here are some signs to watch for:

Increased pain

While an ingrown toenail may hurt when you walk, an infected ingrown toenail hurts at the slightest touch. Wearing shoes, contact with sheets and blankets, and even showering can exacerbate the pain. 

Worsening appearance

Once your ingrown toenail is infected, the skin around it turns red, and the swelling increases, too. The skin around the infection begins to harden.

Increased pressure

As your body tries to fight the infection, it sends more blood to the scene, which adds considerable pressure under your toenail. You may feel throbbing pain as a result.


An abscess is a pus-filled pocket near the place where your nail broke through your skin, and is a sure sign of infection.

Temperature change

Infections cause your body temperature to rise, which is why you get a fever when you’re sick. If your ingrown toenail becomes infected, the temperature in the area goes up and feels warm to the touch.

Bleeding and oozing

If you have an abscess, or if excess pressure builds up under your nail, the contents may leak if you bump your toe or break the skin. You may see some blood, pus, or a mixture of the two ooze out of the wound. 

Foul smell

While feet are notorious for smelling a bit off from time to time, the putrid odor of an infected ingrown toenail is in a league of its own. 

Complications of an infected ingrown toenail

Although rare, an ingrown toenail that’s left untreated can cause some dangerous problems. Two of these possible, though uncommon, complications include:

If you have diabetes, you’re at a higher risk for these complications than other people. Because diabetes affects your blood flow and nerve function, you may not notice the pain and discomfort of an ingrown toenail right away, which is why you need to visually check your feet and toes every day. If you happen to get an infection, your diabetes interferes with the healing process — another reason to come in regularly for a foot check and to get treatment started early. 

Expert treatment for an infected ingrown toenail

Our specialists walk you through your treatment options when you have an infected ingrown toenail. The best case scenario is that all you need is an antibiotic to help your body destroy the pathogens and heal on its own.

For more severe conditions, we may recommend a partial nail plate avulsion, which is a minor surgical procedure to remove part of the nail. 

Whichever treatment is right for you, you can count on Dr. Preece and Dr. Groberg to give you the best advice on preventing ingrown toenails, treat them when they happen, and care for all your toe, foot, and ankle problems. 

To schedule an appointment, use our online booking tool or call us at 801-285-6332.

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