Nail cuticle infections, also called paronychia, may be caused by bacteria, yeast or fungus. Symptoms include redness, swelling and tenderness at the base of the nail -- and sometimes pus-filled blisters and drainage. While antibiotics are a common treatment, natural and home treatments can be effective in managing minor infections. However, these infections have the potential to become serious, so it's important seek medical follow-up if you have a compromised immune system or if the paronychia worsens despite home treatment.
Natural and Home Treatments
One of the best natural treatments for minor paronychia is to soak the affected finger in warm water 3 to 4 times daily. This treatment is also an effective complement to other therapies, including antibiotic treatment. Warm water soaks not only clean the area, but improve blood flow to the surface for improved healing. Guidelines published in the February 2008 issue of "American Family Physician" outline that soaks in Burow's solution, an over-the-counter antibacterial solution consisting of aluminum acetate, or a 1:1 vinegar and water solution may be effective. Other touted remedies include soaks with Epsom salt, oregano oil and tea tree oil, but there is insufficient data on the effectiveness of these additives.
Prevention Strategies: Acute Paronychia
Paronychia that is acute, or sudden onset, is caused by minor trauma that allowed the cuticle area to become infected. The best way to prevent this type of infection, and to prevent worsening of existing infections, is to take good care of your nails. This starts with taking steps to avoid injury to the nail bed or cuticle. For example, cuticles should not be cut or trimmed, and nails need not be cut too short. Also, resist biting or picking on nails or cuticles as this not only risks minor injury to the area but exposes any skin openings to the wide range of infection-causing mouth bacteria.
Treatment and Prevention Strategies: Chronic Paronychia
Chronic paronychia is a persistent inflammation to the nail cuticle area. It is often caused by a fungus, but may also be related to ongoing exposure to an irritant or allergen. This type of paronychia is more common in people whose hands are frequently wet or exposed to chemicals, such as dishwashers, house cleaners or hairdressers. The best way to treat and prevent this type of infection is the avoid the irritant or allergen -- keeping hands dry, and covering with gloves to minimize exposure to water or irritants. Paronychia can also occur in the toes, so it helps to change socks every day and to avoid continual exposure to wet, sweaty socks.
Paronychia is an infection which can progress to something serious. Natural remedies include warm soaks, proper care of hands and fingers and good hygiene. Home treatments such as antibiotic cream may also help treat minor infections. If the infection has spread beyond the nail bed, if an abscess has developed or if pus is coming out of the wound, see a doctor. These more advanced nail bed infections can usually be successfully treated with antibiotics or antifungal cream, and in some cases incision and drainage may be needed. If untreated, these infections can spread to the bone and tendons, so don't delay seeking care.