Paronychia is inflammation or infection of the skin that surrounds a fingernail or toenail.
Treatment depends on whether the paronychia is acute or chronic.
Paronychia is caused by bacteria or fungi that enter damaged skin. Damaged skin can be from torn cuticles, cuts, or cracks.
Factors that may increase your chances of paronychia include:
- Suppressed immune system
- Work that requires frequent exposure to chemical solvents or water, including food service, cleaning, dentistry, bartending, hairdressing, and nursing
- Habitual nail-biting or picking and finger sucking
- Overly aggressive manicuring
- Ingrown nail
Paronychia may cause:
- Redness and swelling of the skin around the nail
- Pus formation near the nail
- Pain and tenderness to the touch
- Discoloration or ridging of the nail
- Absence of the cuticle
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. In most cases, paronychia can be seen on examination. If you have an abscess, your doctor may take a sample of the pus to identify the specific cause of the infection.
Treatments are different for acute and chronic paronychia.
A mild case of acute paronychia is usually caused by bacteria. Minor swelling or redness near the nail may be treated by soaking the affected nail in warm water. This treatment can be repeated 2-4 times daily, for 15 minutes at a time.Topical antibiotics can be used on the area between soaks. In most cases, this type of paronychia heals within 5-10 days.
In cases where a build up of pus is suspected, your doctor may also cut the area with a scalpel to drain it. It is possible that your doctor will need to remove part of the nail. If your condition does not improve, or is severe, your doctor may prescribe oral antibiotic medication.
Since some chronic cases might be caused by fungi, your doctor may give you an topical antifungal medication. It may be given in a liquid form that you apply directly to the infected area.
Chronic paronychia may also be caused by a mixed bacterial infection, which can be treated with antibiotics. You may need to take the medication for several weeks. Some dermatologists believe that chronic paronychia is often caused by inflammation rather than by either bacterial or fungal infections. For such non-infectious paronychia, the use of cortisone creams can be helpful.
Whatever treatment is prescribed, it is important to keep the skin clean and dry. It is also important to avoid getting irritating substances, such as strong cleaners or certain foods, on the area. Surgery may be recommended in some cases of chronic paronychia that do not respond to other treatments.
Symptoms may subside with treatment. However, permanent damage to the nail or surrounding tissue sometimes results.
To help reduce your chances of paronychia:
- Keep your hands and feet clean and dry. Apply moisturizing lotion after hand washing.
- Wear rubber gloves if your hands are routinely exposed to water or chemicals.
- Avoid biting or picking your nails.
- Avoid cutting, pulling, or tearing your cuticles.
- Avoid artificial nails, vigorous manicures, or treatments that remove the cuticles.
- If you have diabetes, maintain your blood sugar levels as close to normal as possible. Talk to your doctor about proper foot care.
- Practice proper hygiene. Do not share bathroom supplies.
- Reviewer: EBSCO Medical Review Board Michael Woods, MD, FAAP
- Review Date: 09/2018 -
- Update Date: 09/30/2013 -