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Redmond Regional Medical Center



Paronychia is inflammation or infection of the skin that surrounds a fingernail or toenail.

Treatment depends on whether the paronychia is acute or chronic.

Infection Surrounding the Nail
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Paronychia is caused by bacteria or fungi that enter damaged skin. Damaged skin can be from torn cuticles, cuts, or cracks.

Risk Factors

Factors that may increase your chance of paronychia include:

  • Diabetes
  • Work that requires frequent exposure to chemical solvents or water, including food service, cleaning, dentistry, bartending, hairdressing, and nursing
  • Habitual nail-biting
  • Overly aggressive manicuring


Paronychia may cause:

  • Redness and swelling of the skin around the nail
  • Pus formation near the nail
  • Pain and tenderness to the touch
  • Discoloration or ridging of the nail
  • Absence of the cuticle


The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. In most cases, paronychia can be seen on examination. If you have an abscess, your doctor may take a sample of the pus to identify the specific cause of the infection.


Treatments are different for acute and chronic paronychia.

Acute Paronychia

A mild case of acute paronychia is usually caused by bacteria. Minor swelling or redness near the nail may be treated by soaking the affected nail in warm water. This treatment can be repeated 2-4 times daily, for 15 minutes at a time.

In most cases, this type of paronychia heals within 5-10 days. If your condition does not improve, or is severe, your doctor may prescribe oral antibiotic medication. In cases where a build up of pus is suspected, your doctor may also cut the area with a scalpel to drain it. It is possible that your doctor will need to remove part of the nail.

Chronic Paronychia

Since some chronic cases might be caused by fungi, your doctor may give you an antifungal medication. It may be given in a liquid form that you apply directly to the infected area.

Chronic paronychia may also be caused by a mixed bacterial infection, which can be treated with antibiotics. You may need to take the medication for several weeks. Some dermatologists believe that chronic paronychia is often caused by inflammation rather than by either bacterial or fungal infections. For such non-infectious paronychia, the use of cortisone creams can be helpful.

Whatever treatment is prescribed, it is important to keep the skin clean and dry. It is also important to avoid getting irritating substances, such as strong cleaners or certain foods, on the area. Surgery may be recommended in some cases of chronic paronychia that do not respond to other treatments.

Symptoms may subside with treatment. However, permanent damage to the nail or surrounding tissue sometimes results.


To help reduce your chance of paronychia:

  • Keep your hands and feet clean and dry.
  • Wear rubber gloves if your hands are routinely exposed to water or chemicals.
  • Avoid biting your nails.
  • Avoid cutting, pulling, or tearing your cuticles.
  • Avoid artificial nails, vigorous manicures, or treatments that remove the cuticles.
  • If you have diabetes, maintain your blood sugar levels as close to normal as possible. Talk to your doctor about proper foot care.
  • Practice proper hygiene. Do not share bathroom supplies.

Revision Information

  • American Academy of Dermatology

  • National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases

  • Canadian Dermatology Association

  • Health Canada

  • Daniel CR III, Daniel MP, Daniel J, Sullivan S, Bell FE. Managing simple chronic paronychia and onycholysis with ciclopirox 0.77% and an irritant-avoidance regimen. Cutis. 2004;73(1):81-85.

  • Dwayne C. Common acute hand infections. Am Fam Physician. 2003;68(11):2167-2176.

  • Paronychia. Nemours Kids Health website. Available at: Updated January 2015. Accessed August 4, 2015.

  • Rigopoulos D, Larios G, Gregoriou S, Alevizos A. Acute and chronic paronychia. Am Fam Physician. 2001;63(6):1113-1117.

The health information in this Health Library is provided by a third party. Redmond Regional Medical Center does not in any way create the content of this information. It is provided solely for informational purposes. It does not constitute medical advice and is not intended to be a substitute for proper medical care provided by a physician. Always consult with your doctor for appropriate examinations, treatment, testing, and care recommendations. Do not rely on information on this site as a tool for self-diagnosis. If you have a medical emergency, call 911.