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What is Paronychia?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 17, 2024
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Paronychia is an infection that occurs on the nail folds of either the toes or fingers. These nail folds are the ridges that surround the side of the nail, and when paronychia strikes, it can cause a skin ridge to be red or inflamed, and painful. The term is often used to describe nail fungus, but the condition may be caused by fungus or have a bacterial infection present, making the condition a little confusing to understand. Most often, inflammation and soreness are caused by infections from skin yeasts like candida.

Most people will have this condition at some point in their lives. In young children, the cause is often finger sucking or nail biting. People who work with their hands in wet environments like those who wash dishes frequently may be a little more prone to the condition too. Another common cause is injury to a nail. If you cut a nail too close or start to get an ingrown nail, you may develop the condition, especially on your toes.

Provided there appears to be no pus around the skin folds, and the condition isn’t extremely painful, you may be able to ignore paronychia, since it can sometimes resolve on its own. If the skin gets more swollen, if peeling of the skin starts to occur or when pus or ingrown nails are present, you should see a doctor. People with poor circulation and diabetes should never ignore things like paronychia because of additional risk of infection in the lower extremities.

Most commonly, treatments for this condition are application of either antifungal creams or antibiotic creams. Some people will not respond to lotions or creams and may require oral medications. Treatment is usually dependent on severity and underlying cause. Doctors also recommend that if you require medication to treat paronychia, you finish the medication even if the condition improves in a few days. Severe cases may require pus drainage, usually done in a doctor’s office.

If you have an active case, do not chew on your nails. Try to avoid doing wet work like washing dishes. Make sure you limit showers to a few minutes and dry feet or hands thoroughly afterward.

Fungal and bacterial infections can be contagious and you should avoid getting pedicures or manicures if you have this condition. For kids who seem to get this frequently, especially due to finger sucking or nail biting, it can help to discourage these behaviors. If possible, keep hands or feet (as some kids do chew on their toes) covered.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By anon989405 — On Mar 04, 2015

I suffered from this condition for just over three years. Finally, after trying just about everything else, I applied topical iodine that is commonly sold in any drugstore. Virtually overnight it disappeared. I continue to reapply it once or twice a week as a preventative measure, along with oil of oregano or tea tree oil. It temporarily stains the tissue and nail brown, but it washes away easily or can be removed with a cotton ball saturated with vegetable oil. I am posting this because I so wish I had discovered this sooner.

By anon112969 — On Sep 22, 2010

I've been diagnosed with paronychea. it's not super bad, but they gave me Cephalexin to take. I've been taking it and it seems to be working but my whole foot is itchy as all hell now, it's driving me crazy. Has been for two straight days. Is this normal?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia...
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