The cuticle, which is the layer of dead skin at the base of a fingernail or toenail, acts as a protective seal between the nail and the nail fold. Trauma to tissues around the nail bed is one of the common causes of paronychia, which is an infection of the soft tissues surrounding the nail bed. Bacteria or fungi can enter through the break in the skin, giving rise to an infection. An infected cuticle or nail fold is characterized by redness, pain, swelling, and tenderness. If left untreated, the skin next to the nail fold might even get filled with pus. If you ever spot pus and redness around the nail bed, it would be best to consult a dermatologist.
Causes and Symptoms
Finger sucking, nail biting, or an injury during manicure or pedicure could be responsible for causing this infection. If your hands are in water for prolonged periods or your nails are exposed to harsh chemicals used in household cleaning products, then you are more likely to develop such an infection. Picking a hangnail, or trimming and pushing back cuticles could also be a contributing factor. Paronychia could be acute or chronic. While the former is characterized by a rapid onset of the symptoms and lasts less than six weeks, the symptoms develop gradually and lasts for more than six weeks in case of the latter.
The acute form is generally caused by Staphylococcus bacterium. This bacterial infection causes the nail fold to become sore, swollen, and tender to touch. It leads to the development of red edges that might sometimes get filled with pus. The chronic form takes a longer time to develop, and could be caused due to dermatitis of the hands. A yeast infection caused by Candida albicans could also lead to the development of this nail problem. Chronic fingernail infections can also be attributed to herpes simplex virus. These are referred to as herpetic whitlow. Besides swelling, pain, redness, or formation of pus, these infections could also lead to distorted or discolored nails. One might develop brittle nails as well.
The treatment options vary depending on the type of infection. Pus might be drained and tested for identifying the causal pathogen. The treatment usually involves the topical application of ointments. Antibiotic ointments or creams are prescribed if the infection is caused by bacteria. Ketoconazole antifungal cream and skin drying Castellani's paint are usually prescribed, if the causal pathogen is a fungus. Oral fluconazole and oral erythromycin might be prescribed for the treatment of fungal and bacterial paronychia respectively. If there is a collection of pus under the skin, doctors might use a surgical knife to open the abscess and drain the pus. The use of corticosteroids might also be recommended.
While topical application of medicated creams or ointments or use of tablets might help, one can also follow certain home remedies for treating an acute cuticle infection. One can soak the infected nail in a solution made by adding Epsom salt to warm water.
One must also follow certain precautions. One must refrain from nail biting and pay attention to cuticle care. Since frequent wetting of hands or exposure to certain chemicals used in household cleaning can make you susceptible to fungal infections, you should wear cotton-lined rubber gloves when you are doing such household tasks. When you go for manicure or pedicure, make sure that the instruments that are being used have been sanitized.
Do follow all the precautions to prevent such infections and keep your nails in good condition. If there is a cut or wound around your nails, treat it soon. This way bacteria and fungi will not be able to infect the soft tissues around the nails.
Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is solely for educating the reader. It is not intended to be a substitute for the advice of a medical expert.