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Nailing down Paronychia

Avoiding the infection and keeping nails and nail folds healthy and strong


By Dr. Kaycee Reyes

We do a lot of work with our hands and feet. In a day, it is exposed to millions of bacteria that we do not even know of. Sometimes, we think those who are constantly exposed to water always have their hands and toes clean, but that is not always the case. A skin infection called paronychia may develop on the skin around the nail, making it look red and swollen, and sometimes even filled with pus! This week, let us discuss paronychia and learn how to avoid this unfortunate skin condition.

Paronychia, also called whitlow, is a skin infection affecting the nail folds. There are two types of paronychia that is differentiated by how fast it appears and how long it stays: Acute paronychia develops quickly but also disappears fast, whereas chronic paronychia grows slowly, heals slowly, and sometimes recurs. Paronychia is neither hereditary nor contagious, but it occurs to more women than men. It is caused by being infected by one or more virus or bacteria, such as Staphylococcus aureus, candida (yeast), and herpes simplex virus. Once the skin or nail fold gets cut and exposed to these, the infection begins. The nail fold can cut or break by picking, biting, and manicures, among others. Paronychia looks red, sore, soft, and swollen. At times, whitish or yellowish pus may fill the nail fold and weaken the nail, making it change its color, shape, and texture. To diagnose paronychia, the physician may diagnose without a skin sample. At other times, a sample is needed as it may be confused with other skin conditions such as psoriasis that may also cause damage to the nail. The doctor may also perform a background check as the individual’s occupation may contribute to their skin infection. Usually, fishermen, bartenders, hairdressers, and cleaners, or those who are constantly exposed to water and harsh chemicals are at a higher risk of having paronychia. Moreover, the individual’s medical history may also be looked at, because those who are diabetic, have poor circulation, those who take specific drugs that dry the skin, or those with weakened immune systems are also more prone to the infection.


Healing may be slow and gradual for those who have chronic paronychia, but there is a cure for it. Anti-fungal and antibacterial creams may be applied topically, or oral medication may be taken if topical creams are unsuccessful. The doctor may also advise the following:

1. Keep hands warm and dry.

2. Avoid washing hands frequently. If washing hands, dry hands thoroughly.

3. Avoid biting and picking on nails.

4. Keep manicures to a minimum. Leave cuticles alone; do not cut or push them back.

5. Avoid wearing false nails.

6. Apply hand cream or moisturizer often.

7. Wear gloves when doing chores with water, detergent, alcohol, or other harsh chemicals.

8. If diabetic or the individual has a health problem related to paronychia, it may be best to treat the condition for the infection to subside or avoid recurrence.

Paronychia is a tricky infection as it can recur. If you suspect that you have it, set an appointment with a dermatologist immediately. From now on, pay attention to the water and chemicals that you get exposed to everyday. Even healthy individuals can have paronychia, and it doesn’t hurt to be extra careful!

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