Paronychia is an infection that forms around the edge of a fingernail or toenail. Acute cases of paronychia are usually caused by biting, picking, or scratching the cuticle or sides of the nail. They may also occur when a manicure or pedicure is done with non-sterilized tools. Chronic paronychia may be caused by environmental factors, such as having a job where your hands are regularly submerged in water. Paronychia is typically caused by yeast, bacteria, or fungal infections, and its symptoms include skin that is red, tender and inflamed. Luckily, most cases of paronychia are relatively easy to treat, especially if caught early.

Warm Water Soaks

The most popular home treatment for paronychia is inexpensive and straightforward: soak the infected finger or toe in a dish of clean, warm water for 20 minutes. The warm water will draw the infection out, allowing the area to heal. Do this twice daily until the infection is gone, taking care to dry your hands thoroughly when finished. This prevents wet skin from exacerbating the problem and is very important to the healing process. If warm water soaks do not seem to make an impact on your infection after a few days, see a doctor for more intensive treatment.

A photo of a woman's fingers soaked into a bowl of water



If at-home treatments do not heal your infection, a physician may prescribe you oral antibiotics to help resolve the issue. These medications help to clear up acute cases of paronychia that are caused by bacteria. Most doses will last for about one week since this is a relatively small infection. However, even if you notice that your paronychia has healed, you should continue to take all of the remaining antibiotics. In many cases, failing to complete the full course of antibiotics can result in a reemergence of the infection, and it may be a more resistant strain.



Antifungal Medication

Paronychia is sometimes caused by fungal infections rather than bacterial or yeast infection. In these cases, your physician would likely prescribe an antifungal cream to help clear up the condition. If home remedies have not worked after a few days, it is important to talk to your physician before the fungal infection spreads to other fingers or toes. You should not use nail implements like clippers or cuticle scissors on the infected area, as this could spread a fungal infection in addition to worsening the paronychia on the current nail. Be careful to use the antifungal cream exactly as prescribed to resolve the infection quickly.



Keep it Dry

One of the most common causes of chronic paronychia is working in an environment in which your hands are frequently wet. It is important to keep your hands dry most of the time so that it can heal. If possible, you should adapt your job so that you can clean and dry your hands periodically. Other options include using waterproof gloves that also wick sweat away from your hands. This allows you to stay dry during the day. While your infection is healing, you should avoid getting the area wet except when it is part of your treatment process.

A photo of a pair of hands drying off with a paper towel



Surgery to resolve paronychia is not common, but it is an alternative if regular treatments do not work. In this procedure, a physician will remove the infected tissue, usually with the use of local anesthetic. If the nail itself is damaged or deformed by the infection, the surgeon will also remove it completely. After surgery, your physician will instruct you about how to clean and care for the impacted area. As with most surgical procedures, this is usually the last resort if everything else has failed. Do not expect your doctor to suggest it right away. In most cases, other treatments will work instead.

A surgeon picking up a surgical tool from a surgical tray



If your infection is causing you pain, anti-inflammatories can help to relieve some of the swelling and tenderness caused by paronychia. Your doctor may prescribe topical anti-inflammatories, but if not, over-the-counter medications can help. Ibuprofen, paracetamol, and naproxen are some of the most commonly used kinds of oral medications. These are typically available for a low cost at most grocery and drug stores. Anti-inflammatories are known to cause stomach and liver issues if taken too often, so you should consult your physician for further guidance if your paronychia pain does not subside after a week of self-treatment.



Abscess Drainage

Most people with paronychia experience a tender, swollen abscess around the nail. In some cases, however, that small abscess can become large and excruciatingly painful. If you have acute paronychia that seems to be getting more swollen instead of less, your physician may recommend draining the abscess. To do this, a trained medical professional will pierce the abscess with a sterile lancet. This allows it to drain before thoroughly cleaning and bandaging it. You should never attempt to drain your own abscess. You are unlikely to have the sterile equipment or utilize the proper cleaning techniques to allow proper healing.

Abscess on the finger


Avoid Biting and Picking

Paronychia often occurs in people who bite or pick at their nails. This nervous habit isn’t just unsightly – it also can provide a pathway for infections. Making a point to avoid biting or picking at your nails. This can help you to heal from an existing case of paronychia. And it will also prevent future infections. If you have trouble quitting the habit, try using bitter, anti-bite nail polish as a deterrent. If you can stop biting your nails, not only will you treat and prevent paronychia, you can avoid a host of other health problems caused by biting germ-covered nails.

A woman biting her nails


Utilize Safe Nail Salons

Getting manicures and pedicures can be a fun experience. Make sure to check up on customer reviews and health and safety reports before deciding where to go to get your nails done. A salon that does not utilize proper sterilization and cleaning methods can increase your risk of developing paronychia. Having well-trained employees and a good track record of cleanliness is very important to prevent the spread of fungal and bacterial infections. If you are unsure about whether your regular nail salon takes measures to prevent infections, skip the manicure or find one that does.



Treat Before It Spreads

Paronychia may seem like a small and insignificant infection, but it is important to make sure that it heals quickly. It is possible for the infection to spread from your fingertip into your bloodstream. Although most infections resolve themselves with minimal treatment. This could lead to a serious and even fatal infection elsewhere in the body. If your paronychia persists for more than a few days, speak to your doctor about a treatment plan for the infection. Although this type of spread is rare, treatment for paronychia is typically so simple that there is no reason to put it off and take the risk.



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