If you have ever had a hangnail, you probably know what a paronychia feels like. Paronychia is an infection around the fingernail in one of the folds around the nail. The skin fold swells and becomes tender or reddened. Sometimes a pocket of pus accumulates which creates more pressure against the edge of the nail and it becomes increasingly tender and sensitive to touch. Even a band-aid can be painful to apply.
Paronychia is the most common type of hand infection and is the cause of 35 percent of all hand infections. It can occur after a minor irritation from biting or sucking on one’s nails, application of artificial nails or from a hangnail. Bacteria get inside the affected area as the barrier between the skin and nail has been disturbed, allowing an infection to flourish. Staphylococcus aureus is the most common bacteria. Sometimes both a bacterial and fungus infection can occur making it more difficult for the area to sufficiently heal.
Chronic paronychia is usually caused by a yeast infection such as Candida albicans and may last six weeks or longer. Chronic paronychia can flare up intermittently after exposure to water and may involve several fingers.
Who is at risk?
Women are more at risk than men in developing paronychia by a ratio of 3:1 but parenychia can occur at any age. People like housecleaners, florists, or swimmers, who frequently have their hands in water or other irritants like cleaning solutions, are more likely to develop paronychia. Certain immune diseases make people more susceptible as well.
If the finger is just red and tender, warm soaks in half warm water and half anti-bacterial soap can be done three or four times each day for 15 minutes for a couple of days. If the finger does not improve or if the swelling spreads and/or pus appears then medical attention should be sought because an abscess may be forming.
A doctor will decide whether the area needs to be drained. The finger will be numbed first before the pocketed area is opened and packed afterwards with wicking material to allow it continue to drain. After a couple more days the packing material will be removed and soaking in a warm water mixture will probably be resumed. In some cases, oral antibiotics may be prescribed.
It is important to follow up with your doctor to check that the infection has resolved and not spread into a joint or tendon in the finger.
Avoid biting your nails in general and especially avoid biting a hangnail to remove it. Clip nails instead. Avoid any rough treatment when having nails done at a salon. If your hands must be in water for prolonged periods, wear gloves to protect them. Make sure to wash hands well after working around dirty areas to avoid cuts or scrapes from becoming infected.
If you find that paronychia occur often, then see a doctor, as it may be a symptom of some other type of illness such as diabetes or other immune disease.
Michele is an R.N. freelance writer with a special interest in woman’s healthcare and quality of care issues. Other articles by Michele are at www.helium.com/users/487540/show_articles