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Paronychia is a swelling and infection of the skin surrounding a fingernail or toenail.

What is going on in the body? 
Paronychia may be caused by repeated injury that creates swelling. It may also be caused by infection with bacteria or yeast organisms. Swelling lifts the wall of skin underlying the nail. This makes the area more at risk for future infection.

What are the signs and symptoms of the disease? 
Paronychia may cause swelling, tenderness, and redness of the area around the nail. Nails may be discoloured and grow abnormally. Pus may leak out from the cuticles, which are the thin layers of skin that cover the edges of a nail.

What are the causes and risks of the disease? 
Common causes of paronychia include:
  • repeated injury of the cuticle skin, such as in vigorous manicures
  • repetitive soaking of hands in water at work or home
  • excessive hand washing, especially when the hands are not dried properly
Paronychia are more common in a person who is prone to bacterial and yeast infections, such as an individual with diabetes. Repeated bouts of paronychia are common.

What can be done to prevent the disease? 
Paronychia can be minimised by avoiding prolonged soaking in water, and by drying the hands well after hand washing. Manicures should be gentle, to avoid trauma to the cuticles.

How is the disease diagnosed? 
Paronychia can be diagnosed from the appearance of the nail and its surrounding skin. It is also diagnosed by laboratory tests to figure out what is causing the infection.

What are the long-term effects of the disease? 
Damage to the nail itself may be permanent. An infection of the soft tissue and bone can occur in long-standing cases.

What are the risks to others? 
The organisms that cause paronychia are not usually passed to other people. However, the use of manicure tools that have not been sterilised can transmit the disease.

What are the treatments for the disease? 
Antifungal and corticosteroid creams are helpful. Antifungal and antibacterial medications taken in pill form may be needed to treat some infections.

What are the side effects of the treatments? 
The side effects depend on which treatment is used. Some side effects may include headaches, nausea, diarrhoea, and allergic reactions.

How is the disease monitored? 
Any new symptoms should be reported to the doctor, since paronychia may often recur.

Author: Lynn West, MD
Reviewer: HealthAnswers Australia Medical Review Panel
Editor: Dr David Taylor, Chief Medical Officer HealthAnswers Australia
Last Updated: 1/10/2001
Potential conflict of interest information for reviewers available on request

This website and article is not a substitute for independent professional advice. Nothing contained in this website is intended to be used as medical advice and it is not intended to be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease, nor should it be used for therapeutic purposes or as a substitute for your own health professional's advice.  All Health and any associated parties do not accept any liability for any injury, loss or damage incurred by use of or reliance on the information.


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