Paronychia, a bacterial, fungal or yeast infection of the skin around the fingernail or toenail, occurs when the area is damaged by a manicure, biting the nails or trimming a hangnail. High-risk individuals include diabetics and people whose hands are wet all day. Symptoms include pain, redness and swelling around the nail, sometimes with pus, and may occur suddenly or gradually over time. Treatment takes several months and may include home remedies, medications or drainage by a health care provider.
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Bacterial paronychia usually responds well to soaking in hot water two or three times a day for 15 minutes at a time. Soaking reduces swelling and pain and assists in healing. Warm compresses applied to the finger or toe can also reduce pain and swelling. Changes in nail color, ridged or thickened nails, or loss of the nail may occur. The individual should contact her health care provider if the swelling or pain worsen, pus begins to drain, or she has a fever.
Applying over-the-counter products to the affected area may assist in healing paronychia if the individual selects an appropriate medication. Antifungal creams reduce fungal infections and corticosteroid creams relieve symptoms of non-infectious paronychia. Applying a commercial solution of thymol -- derived from thyme oil -- in ethanol several times a day to the cuticle area can keep the area dry and protect against entry of microorganisms. A moisturizing lotion applied several times a day can help prevent future paronychia.
Keeping the affected area dry assists healing. Wearing gloves when working in water or chemicals and applying barrier creams keep moisture out while the cuticle heals. To prevent paronychia, individuals should avoid biting their nails, cutting or tearing the cuticles, having artificial nails applied, or having cuticles removed. Diabetics should manage their blood sugar levels carefully. Everyone should practice good hand washing and avoid sharing towels with others to avoid the spread of infection.