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Paronychia – Educating yourself is Half the Battle

Updated on August 3, 2013

Paronychia begins with redness, swelling, and tenderness to the touch. Cases can vary from acute to chronic, depending on the length of the infection. Many cases are found in children as a result of nail biting or finger sucking. Adults with diabetes or who work in places that require their hands remain wet for extended periods of time also experience this problem.

Symptoms of Paronychia

The symptoms start as redness or tenderness. Paronychia treatments are not difficult in most cases and can be administered without the attention of a physician, though there are always exceptions to this rule. In severe cases where an abscess occurs or the infected area spreads down the finger a physician may need to be contacted for drainage of the abscess or treatment.

Causes of Paronychia

The causes of paronychia of the infection can be either bacterial or fungal. Determining the cause of the infection could have an effect on the treatment will determine what type of treatment is needed. No matter the cause, treatment can begin the same way, with warm water soaks for 15 minutes at a time, 3 or 4 times a day.

A bacterial infection suggests that there is a break in the skin where bacteria entered to cause the symptoms. Bacteria can be found in many places, but this skin infection is most commonly spread through improper cleaning of manicure tools. One form of prevention is bringing your own tools to the salon when getting a manicure. Though it may seem a little embarrassing at first, the extra step could eliminate a potentially painful situation. Of course, there has to be a break in the skin for the bacteria to affect the nail, so avoidance of nail biting is another way to be assured that infection will not occur. A bacterial infection of this disorder is more likely to cause the pustules that may need medical attention for drainage.

Bacterial infections will require an anti-biotic prescription from your physician. The prescription will take 1 – 2 weeks to completely heal the infection.

The fungal version of this disorder has many of the same symptoms, but occurs in the skin from a fungus that presents itself when the patient has their hands in water for extended periods of time or as a side effect of diabetes. As with other fungal infections, this form must be treated with an anti-fungal ointment. In these cases, it is important to keep the hands dry. It may even be necessary to use a skin drying substance or “paint”.

If the infection persists or worsens, a doctor may see fit to prescribe an anti-fungal prescription that will be taken orally, but this is only necessary in the severest of cases where the infection spreads down the finger and is associated with chills and other symptoms. If you are given an anti-fungal pill then it will take up to 6 months to completely cure. Probably the most severe cases will cause removal of part or all of the nail, but those are only in severe cases which is less than 1% of all patients.


News and Resources

Fighting Nail Infections - NHS Choices

HealthLine - Causes and Treatments for Infections

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