Fingernail Infection (Paronychia)

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Parent and child holding hands Parent and child holding hands  

What is a fingernail infection?

Fingernail infections occur on or near the edge of the nail. Most of the time, fingernail infections are not serious but they can be painful. This type of infection can also form on the toenails.

Signs and symptoms

Signs and symptoms may include:

  • Swelling where the finger meets the nail
  • Redness and mild tenderness surrounding the infected area
  • A blister filled with pus or pus draining from the swollen area

Causes

Fingernail infections are caused by bacteria entering the skin around the nail. Nail biting, ingrown nails, and finger sucking can cause the skin to break, allowing bacteria to enter. Also, pushing the cuticle down or trimming the cuticle (which is usually done as part of a manicure) can also lead to infection.

Treatment

Antiseptic soaks

Soak the affected area in warm water with an antibacterial soap. Do this three times a day for 10-20 minutes at a time. If the infection has not cleared after four or five days, make an appointment to see your child's doctor.

Draining

In most cases, pus will drain on its own after soaking the infection. You may need to apply a bit of pressure by gently rubbing or squeezing the area with a damp cloth or cotton swab. If this does not work, then see your doctor. You doctor may take a small needle to open up the affected area and drain the pus.

Antibiotics

You can try applying an over-the-counter antibiotic ointment such as Polysporin to the infected area 2-3 times per day. The best time to apply this ointment is after the area has been soaked in warm water for 10-20 minutes. If the infection persists, your child's doctor may prescribe a stronger antibiotic ointment to fight the infection. Apply the ointment as directed until the infection disappears. If the infection appears to be spreading beyond the nail, your child's doctor may prescribe an oral antibiotic.

Prevention

Encourage your child to not bite, pick, or chew her fingernails. Use nail clippers instead. Avoid pushing cuticles down and do not trim the cuticle.

When to see a doctor

Make an appointment with your child's doctor if:

  • your child develops a fever.
  • the infection has not cleared after four or five days.
  • the area of redness or swelling is getting bigger.
  • the area is hot and painful.

Key points

  • Nail infections can occur on the hands and the feet.
  • Nail biting and finger sucking can cause the skin to break, allowing bacteria to enter.
  • Symptoms include swelling, redness, and tenderness of the area where the nail meets the tissue of the finger.
  • Clean the infection three times a day with warm water and an antibacterial soap.
  • If the infection has not cleared after four or five days, seek medical attention.

Elly Berger, BA, MD, FRCPC, FAAP, MHPE

5/4/2013




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