Fingernail Infection in Children: Care Instructions

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Minor skin infections around a fingernail are common. These infections can be caused by bacteria. They can happen if your child's hands are in water a lot. Or your child could get one if they bite off a hangnail or push back a cuticle.

Nail-biting increases the chance of this type of infection.

Sometimes a minor skin infection around the nail leads to infection under the nail. Or it may lead to a more serious infection of the skin, the bone, or a joint.

Follow-up care is a key part of your child's treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if your child is having problems. It's also a good idea to know your child's test results and keep a list of the medicines your child takes.

How can you care for your child at home?

  • If the doctor prescribed antibiotics for your child, give them as directed. Do not stop using them just because your child feels better. Your child needs to take the full course of antibiotics.
  • Give your child acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) for pain. Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label.
  • Do not give a child two or more pain medicines at the same time unless the doctor told you to. Many pain medicines have acetaminophen, which is Tylenol. Too much acetaminophen (Tylenol) can be harmful.
  • If your doctor told you how to care for your child's infected nail, follow your doctor's instructions. If you did not get instructions, follow this general advice:
    • Wash the area with clean water 2 times a day. Don't use hydrogen peroxide or alcohol, which can slow healing.
    • You may cover the area with a thin layer of antibiotic ointment and a nonstick bandage.
    • Apply more antibiotic ointment and replace the bandage as needed.
  • Soak your child's hand 2 or 3 times each day in warm, soapy water.
  • Be very careful when you trim your baby's or child's nails. Do not trim the cuticles. Even a minor cut next to your child's nail can cause infection.
  • Do not try to remove any part of the affected nail.
  • Make sure your child does not bite or pick at their nails.

When should you call for help?

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • Your child has signs that the infection is getting worse, such as:
    • Increased pain, swelling, warmth, or redness.
    • Red streaks leading from the area.
    • Pus draining from the area.
    • A fever.

Watch closely for changes in your child's health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • Your child does not get better as expected.

Where can you learn more?

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The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.