What is nail bed infection?

Nail Bed Infection
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Paronychia: Overview

Paronychia (say "pair-oh-NY-kee-uh") is an inflammation of the skin around a fingernail or toenail. It happens when germs enter through a break in the skin. If you had an abscess, your doctor may have made a small cut in the infected area to drain the pus.

Most cases of paronychia improve in a few days. But watch your symptoms and follow your doctor's advice. Though rare, a mild case can turn into something more serious and infect your entire finger or toe. Also, it is possible for an infection to return.

Nail bed infection (paronychia)

Paronychia is a skin infection (fungal or bacterial) around a nail. Symptoms of redness or swelling can come on suddenly and last for a short period of time (acute), or symptoms can be ongoing or occur repeatedly (chronic).

The infection is more likely to develop from having the hands or feet in water repeatedly, or from an injury, such as biting or cutting off a hangnail or pushing back a cuticle.

Minor redness or swelling may clear up with home treatment, such as keeping the area clean. Some cases require treatment with topical antibiotics or antifungal medicine. Occasionally a doctor will need to drain the infected area.

How can you care for paronychia?

  • If your doctor told you how to care for your infected nail, follow the doctor's instructions. If you did not get instructions, follow this general advice:
    • Wash the area with clean water 2 times a day. Don't use hydrogen peroxide or alcohol, which can slow healing.
    • You may cover the area with a thin layer of antibiotic ointment and a nonstick bandage.
    • Apply more antibiotic ointment and replace the bandage as needed.
  • If your doctor prescribed antibiotics, take them as directed. Do not stop taking them just because you feel better. You need to take the full course of antibiotics.
  • Take an over-the-counter pain medicine, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), or naproxen (Aleve). Read and follow all instructions on the label.
  • Do not take two or more pain medicines at the same time unless the doctor told you to. Many pain medicines have acetaminophen, which is Tylenol. Too much acetaminophen (Tylenol) can be harmful.
  • Prop up the toe or finger so that it is higher than the level of your heart. This will help with pain and swelling.
  • Apply heat. Put a warm water bottle, heating pad set on low, or warm cloth on your finger or toe. Do not go to sleep with a heating pad on your skin.
  • Soak the area in warm water twice a day for 15 minutes each time. After soaking, dry the area well and apply a thin layer of antibiotic ointment. Put on a new bandage.

Treating a nail infection

Try home treatment if you think you have an infection in the skin around your nail.

  • Apply a thin layer of antibiotic ointment to the nail and cover with a nonstick bandage.
  • Soak your foot or hand 2 to 3 times each day.

    After soaking, apply a thin layer of antibiotic ointment and a bandage.

  • Apply heat.

    Put a warm water bottle, heating pad set on low, or warm cloth on your finger or toe.

  • Do not try to remove any part of the affected nail.
  • Remove an artificial nail if you think you have an infection around or under a nail.

Fingernail infection in children: When to call

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • Your child has signs that the infection is getting worse, such as:
    • Increased pain, swelling, warmth, or redness.
    • Red streaks leading from the area.
    • Pus draining from the area.
    • A fever.

Watch closely for changes in your child's health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • Your child does not get better as expected.

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The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.