Paronychia is the fancy word for an infection in the skin around your nail. It can occur in your fingernails or your toenails and It usually affects just one nail at a time. The result is red, swollen, and painful skin around your nail. The infection is usually caused by bacteria that get into the skin. Less commonly it can be caused by a fungus such as candida (known as a yeast infection) or by the virus herpes simplex (the virus that causes cold sores). When the infection is caused by bacteria it can cause pus to collect and you may see a yellow fluid collection or yellow crusting in and around the area.
You’re more at risk of developing paronychia if you bite your nails, you have injured the skin around the nail, you have underlying skin or nail conditions, or if you do a job or spend alot of your day where you hands are damp for a long amount of time (such as a cleaner or pot washer.) This is because it can damage or cause breaks in the skin making it easier for bacteria to get in. Wearing false nails can also put you at a higher risk of paronychia occurring.
Paronychia is not contagious but you need to take care to keep the area clean and dry as if it is caused by bacteria or fungus it could get into any other breaks in the skin causing further skin infection.
If you have developed paronychia it is important to keep the area as dry and clean as you can. You can take over-the-counter pain relief such as paracetamol for the pain as well as using heat on the area. The best way to do this is to use a clean flannel soaked in warm water and applied to the area up to four times a day for around 5 or 10 minutes. Make sure to dry the area well once you have done this. The heat can not only help with pain but can also help to draw any pus that may have developed to the surface. If you are needing to have your hands in water then it is best to wear rubber gloves to keep the area dry and to take them off as soon as you have finished.
You should see your doctor if you think you have paronychia. This is because most cases are caused by bacteria so can be treated easily with antibiotics (either in cream or tablet form). If you have had the infection for a long time it can cause damage to the nail and results in what’s known as chronic paronychia which can be a bit more difficult to treat.
The doctor will ask you about your symptoms and any significant past medical history. They will also examine your finger. Depending on the likely cause and severity they may prescribe antibiotic cream or tablets. If you have a collection of pus your doctor may refer you to get this drained to aid healing. If the cause of the paronychia is unsure, your symptoms have not improved with antibiotics or you have chronic or severe paronychia, the doctor may take swabs of the area to find the cause and to guide the appropriate treatment.
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