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  • Inflammation/infection of the proximal or lateral nail folds[1]
  • Usually caused by direct or indirect minor trauma (e.g. nail-biting, manicures, hangnails, ingrown nail, dishwashing)
    • Trauma allows entry of bacteria
    • S. aureus is most common, although S. pyogenes, Pseudomonas pyocyanea, and Proteus vulgaris are also common[1]
Paronychia of middle digit

Clinical Features

  • Rapid onset of erythema, edema, and pain of proximal or lateral nail folds[1]
  • Usually only affects one nail
  • May see purulent drainage (expressed with pressure on nail)

Differential Diagnosis

Hand and finger infections


  • Clinical diagnosis, based on history of minor trauma and physical examination
  • If unclear if wound is fluctuant:
    • Have patient apply pressure to distal aspect of affected digit
    • A larger than expected area of blanching, reflecting a collection of pus, may identify need for drainage



  • More likely to be bacterial
  • If no fluctuance is identified:
    • Warm compresses, soaks, elevation
    • Antibiotic ointment TID x5-10 days (mild cases) ± topical steroid
    • PO Antibiotics (more severe or persistent cases)[1]
      • Augmentin BID x7 days OR
      • Clindamycin 150-450mg TID or QID x7 days OR
      • TMP-SMX DS 1-2 tab PO BID x7 days
  • If fluctuance or purulence is identified:
    • Consider soaking hand for preparation
    • Consider digital block
    • Incise area of greatest fluctuance
      • Incise parallel to nail (do NOT incise perpendicular to fluctulance)
      • Use iris scissors, flat tweezers, or #11 blade


  • Multifactorial inflammation due to persistent irritation - may also have fungal component[1]
  • Mainstay of therapy is avoidance of irritant
  • Consider topical antifungals vs Diflucan 150mg po qweek x 4-6 weeks


  • Discharge

See Also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 Rigopoulos D, Larios G, Gregoriou S, Alevizos A. Acute and chronic paronychia. Am Fam Physician. 2008 Feb 1;77(3):339-46.