Paronychia is a red, tender infection of the skin at the side or base of a nail. Sometimes called a whitlow, paronychia is commonly caused by bacteria and can affect fingers or toes. Nail-beauty treatments, picking or biting or work that involves wet hands put people at risk, and women are three times more susceptible.1Leggit, Jeffrey C. ‘Acute and Chronic Paronychia.’ American Family Physician, 1 July 2017, www.aafp.org/afp/2017/0701/p44.html
Paronychia symptoms can develop suddenly, and sometimes it doesn't have an identifiable cause. While it can be painful, the condition can usually be managed at home in a short timeframe. Certain cases, such as those involving ingrowing toenails, or where the infection spreads, may need medical attention.
Paronychia occurs when germs get past the skin's protective layer due to a small cut or graze. This allows the invisible microbes, typically staph bacteria, to enter the area and cause infection. Paronychia is classed as a localized skin condition, meaning the infection typically stays within a small area.
Often, the triggers for paronychia aren't easily identified, but picking or biting nails, cosmetic nail applications and ingrowing toenails are all risk factors. Essentially, any action that disrupts the area around the nail fold or cuticle. Paronychia is also linked to jobs where the hands are wet for extended periods, such as construction and cleaning.