A paronychia (pronounced pair-oh-nick-ee-yah) is a common infection of the skin around fingernails or toenails. Infections usually occurs from damage to the area such as biting a hangnail or trimming cuticles. This injury provides a portal of entry for infection. Infections may be caused by a bacteria or fungus. Bacterial infections are usually more painful and swollen, whereas fungal infections develop slowly over time. These infections are very common in people with diabetes or weakened immune systems.
Symptoms of a paronychia include redness and swelling around the nail. It is usually painful. In more extreme cases, there may be pus-filled blisters around the nail. A paronychia is typically diagnosed by physical exam and alone. If it is unable to be determined whether the cause is fungal or bacterial, fluid may be drained and sent to the lab for culture. Sometimes a staph infection, strep infection, or E. Coli may be the cause.
The treatment for paronychia is simple: Antibiotics are prescribed to eliminate the source of a bacterial infection. Taking over the counter anti-inflammatories, such as Ibuprofen, may help to reduce the pain associated with swelling. Warm compresses or soaking the finger in warm water approximately 2-3 times per day may help to decrease pain. In severe cases, the area may be drained by a physician using a scalpel or small needle to make an incision into the center of the inflamed area. Draining will help reduce the pressure that had built up under the fingernail and will reduce pain. Complications of a paronychia may include abscess formation, changes to the nail itself such as hardening and discoloration, or further spread of infection.
A paronychia can be easily prevented with proper nail maintenance, avoiding nailbiting, avoiding trimming or pushing back cuticles, and not sucking on fingers. In addition, insist on sanitized equipment at nail salon and wear gloves when cleaning or being exposed to household chemicals.
If you think a paronychia may be developing, talk to your doctor today or go to an urgent care center.