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Paronychia (Nail Infection)

Paronychia (Nail Infection) Facts

  • Paronychia is the most common nail infection.
  • Paronychia is usually caused by bacteria (Staphylococcus aureus).
  • A chronic form of paronychia is often due to fungal infection.

What Is a Paronychia (Nail Infection)?

An infection that develops along the edge of the fingernail or toenail is called a paronychia (pear-ah-NIK-ee-ah). It is the most common hand infection and, if left untreated, can progress to a more severe infection of the entire finger or toe. Paronychia is distinguished from other infections such as onychomycosis and herpetic whitlow by its location and appearance.

What Causes a Paronychia?

Paronychias are most often caused by common skin bacteria (most commonly staphylococci bacteria) entering the skin around the nail that has been damaged by trauma, such as nail biting, finger sucking, dishwashing, or chemical irritants. Fungal infection also can be a cause of chronic paronychia and is considered particularly in people with recurrent infection. Paronychia can be confused with herpetic whitlow, which can form tiny pustules on the finger and is caused by a virus, but is not typically located at the nail edge. Herpetic whitlow is not treated with an incision and drainage as can be a paronychia.

What Are Paronychia Risk Factors?

Risk factors include any trauma to the nail, nail trimming, or jobs where your nails and hands are exposed to water frequently or are exposed to solvents. Having diabetes makes you more prone to many infections, including paronychia.

What Are Paronychia Symptoms and Signs?

A paronychia may start as redness and swelling around the nail. It is most often very sore to the touch and, at times, may be a yellow-green color, indicating that a collection of pus has formed under the skin (called an abscess) of the toenail or fingernail.

The most common symptoms and signs are the following:

  • Swelling around the fingernail or toenail
  • Redness
  • Pus collection
  • Pain and tenderness to touch
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 9/11/2017

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Paronychia Causes

Nail problems can also be caused by:

  • An injury to a nail.
  • Hangnails, which may lead to a minor infection next to your nails (paronychia), causing the skin around the nails to become swollen and tender.
  • Nail-biting, which can lead to fingertips that are red and sore and cuticles that bleed. Nail-biting also increases the chance of bacterial infections around your nail beds and in your mouth.

Read What Your Physician is Reading on Medscape

Paronychia »

A paronychia is a superficial infection of epithelium lateral to the nail plate.

Read More on Medscape Reference »


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