Paronychia: Care Instructions

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Paronychia (say "pair-oh-NY-kee-uh") is an inflammation of the skin around a fingernail or toenail. It happens when germs enter through a break in the skin. If you had an abscess, your doctor may have made a small cut in the infected area to drain the pus.

Most cases of paronychia improve in a few days. But watch your symptoms and follow your doctor's advice. Though rare, a mild case can turn into something more serious and infect your entire finger or toe. Also, it is possible for an infection to return.

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

How can you care for yourself at home?

  • If your doctor told you how to care for your infected nail, follow the 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.
  • If your doctor prescribed antibiotics, take them as directed. Do not stop taking them just because you feel better. You need to take the full course of antibiotics.
  • Take an over-the-counter pain medicine, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), or naproxen (Aleve). Read and follow all instructions on the label.
  • Do not take 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.
  • Prop up the toe or finger so that it is higher than the level of your heart. This will help with pain and swelling.
  • Apply heat. Put a warm water bottle, heating pad set on low, or warm cloth on your finger or toe. Do not go to sleep with a heating pad on your skin.
  • Soak the area in warm water twice a day for 15 minutes each time. After soaking, dry the area well and apply a thin layer of antibiotic ointment. Put on a new bandage.

When should you call for help?

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have signs of new or worsening infection, such as:
    • Increased pain, swelling, warmth, or redness.
    • Red streaks leading from the infected skin.
    • Pus draining from the area.
    • A fever.

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

  • You do 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.