Paronychia of the Finger or Toe

Paronychia is an infection near a fingernail or toenail. It usually occurs when an opening in the cuticle or an ingrown toenail lets bacteria under the skin.

The infection will need to be drained if pus is present. If the infection has been caught early, you may need only antibiotic treatment. Healing will take about 1 to 2 weeks.

Home care

Follow these guidelines when caring for yourself at home:

  • Clean and soak the toe or finger. Do this 2 times a day for the first 3 days. To do so:

    • Soak your foot or hand in a tub of warm water for 5 minutes. Or hold your toe or finger under a faucet of warm running water for 5 minutes.

    • Clean any crust away with soap and water using a cotton swab.

    • Put antibiotic ointment on the infected area.

  • Change the dressing daily or any time it gets dirty.

  • If you were given antibiotics, take them as directed until they are all gone.

  • If your infection is on a toe, wear comfortable shoes with a lot of toe room. You can also wear open-toed sandals while your toe heals.

  • You may use over-the-counter medicine (acetaminophen or ibuprofen) to help with pain, unless another medicine was prescribed. If you have chronic liver or kidney disease, talk with your healthcare provider before using these medicines. Also talk with your provider if you've had a stomach ulcer or gastrointestinal bleeding.

Prevention

The following can prevent paronychia:

  • Don't cut or play with your cuticles at home. A healthy cuticle maintains a seal between your skin and nail and keeps out infection.

  • Don't bite your nails.

  • Don't suck on your thumbs or fingers.

Follow-up care

Follow up with your healthcare provider, or as advised.

When to seek medical advice

Call your healthcare provider right away if any of these occur:

  • Redness, pain, or swelling of the finger or toe gets worse

  • You have trouble moving or bending the finger or toe

  • Red streaks in the skin leading away from the wound

  • Pus or fluid draining from the nail area

  • Fever of 100.4ºF (38ºC) or higher, or as directed by your provider

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