Paronychia is an infection of the nailbed that can be acute or chronic. Nail infections are more common now with the popularity of manicures and pedicures. The acute infection starts rapidly and is usually caused by bacteria entering the broken skin. Broken skin can be caused by a trauma or aggressive manicuring. It can also be caused by biting of the nails or skin around the nail and with finger sucking. A chronic infection develops slowly. Both cause swelling, pain, redness and warmth around the nail. If you have diabetes, you should seek medical treatment right away. If you can see pus seek treatment right immediately.

Some jobs increase your risk for developing a nail infection. Jobs that require you to have your hands in water and/or chemicals put you at higher risk. Jobs such as house cleaning, janitorial work, nursing, dentistry, food service, and hair dressing are some examples.

The nail infection can also be caused by yeast (aka candida). A yeast infection can become chronic if not treated. You can treat a yeast infection with clotrimazole cream that is available over the counter. Soak your feet twice a day and apply the cream followed by clean white socks. Keep your feet dry!

The first step is always to soak the foot or hand in warm water for at least 15 minutes 2 to 4 times per day and apply clean white socks. If it is your hand, you should wear gloves when working with water or chemicals. Do not wear flip flops or open toed shoes. The nail needs to be protected from bacteria, especially on the feet because they are near the ground and exposed to more bacteria.

If the infection does not improve within 7 days, you should seek treatment. If the infection is worsening don’t wait the 7 days, seek treatment. If you seek treatment, you can expect resolution in 5-10 days. Even with treatment you will need to soak your feet at least twice a day for a toe infection and apply clean white socks each time.

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Sharon Zell NP