Paronychia

Paronychia refers to a bacterial skin infection that usually affects the skin next to a fingernail or toenail. The bacteria that causes the infection is usually on the surface of the person’s skin and the bacteria enters through any small injury that may have occurred beside the nail and proliferates beneath the skin, causing an infection. People with ingrown fingernails or ingrown toenails are more likely to suffer from paronychia.

Risk factors

The risk factors associated with paronychia include the following:

  • DiabetesParonychia
  • Frequently wet hands
  • Injuries such as cuts and wounds around the nails
  • Poor hand and fingernail hygiene
  • Ingrown fingernails
  • Nail biting

Causes

Paronychia is a skin infection that is caused by the bacteria lying on the skin, normally around the nails.

An infection may follow these stages:

  1. An injury occurs on the skin due to the nail
  2. The bacteria lying o the surface of the skin will enter the wound and resides beneath the surface of the skin
  3. The bacteria grows, proliferates and thus, causes and infection which involves a pus-filled swelling and pain.

Signs and symptoms

Signs and symptoms of paronychia include:

  • Pain around the fingernail or toenail  leading to finger pain or toe pain
  • Fingernail pain or toenail pain
  • Swelling of the skin around the affected finger’s nail
  • Tenderness of the skin around the nail
  • Swelling of the skin around the nail
  • Redness of the skin around the nail
  • Skin warmth
  • Pus drainage form the affected region

Treatment

  1. Protect the nail from further injury
  • Do not try to peel off the skin beside the nail or remove part of the nail
  • If you are wearing artificial nails on the affected fingers, take them off
  1. Control symptoms

In case of a mild infection follow these home treatment steps until you see your doctor:

  • Soak the affected finger, hand or foot in warm salt water for 2 to 3 times a day
  • Apply an over-the-counter topical antibiotic and place a bandage on the infection

When to seek medical help

See your doctor if any of the following problems result from the infection:

  • Symptoms remain persistent for more than 2 days
  • A pus-filled swelling or abscess forms beside the nail or anywhere around the nail
  •  Symptoms such as fever, nail discoloration, red streaks around the affected nail and muscle or joint pain accompany the infection
  • The person with paronychia is diabetic

Your doctor may prescribe anti-fungal or antibiotic ointment to treat the symptoms. If a pus-filled pocket forms, the doctor will drain the pus from the abscess pocket.

Prevention

Follow these preventative steps to reduce the risk of paronychia:

  • Wash your hands regularly with soap and water
  • Maintain good nail hygiene and clean the skin of your fingers, especially around your nails at least once a day
  • Avoid tearing the skin or pulling it off in case you see skin coming off beside your nail. Avoid any injury around your nails to prevent infection

Learn More

To learn more about minor and major first aid enrol in a workplace approved program (sign up for a course here). Classes are available in Halifax at least 3 times per week.

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