Fingernail Infection (Paronychia)

What is a fingernail infection?

A fingernail infection is an infection at the base of the fingernail caused by bacteria or yeast.

Your child will probably have:

  • A large pimple at the junction of the cuticle and the fingernail
  • Redness and tenderness of this area
  • Occasionally, pus draining from this area

What is the cause?

If the cuticle has a large pimple or is draining pus, it is usually infected with the Staphylococcus bacteria. The bacteria usually enters the skin through a break in the skin caused by pulling on or chewing on the cuticle. If the cuticle area is only red and swollen without pus, it is usually due to Candida (yeast). Yeast infections usually occur in children that suck their thumb or finger, bite their nails, swim a lot, or have waterlogged cuticles from other activities.

How long will it last?

With proper treatment, this infection should clear up in 7 days. If not, your doctor will probably prescribe an oral antibiotic.

How can I take care of my child?

  • Antiseptic soaks

    If the cause is bacteria, soak the infected finger 3 times a day for 15 minutes in warm water and liquid antibacterial soap. Do this for 4 days, or longer if the wound has not healed.

  • Antibiotic ointments (for bacterial infection)

    Buy an over-the-counter antibiotic ointment. Apply the ointment 4 times a day. Cover it with an adhesive bandage. Continue to apply the antibiotic ointment until no signs of infection remain. Sometimes your healthcare provider may prescribe an antibiotic pill.

  • Open any small pimple

    Any visible pus pocket needs to be opened and drained. If it’s a small pimple, you can do it using a needle sterilized with rubbing alcohol or a flame. Make an opening where the pus pocket joins with the nail. If the pus doesn’t run out, gently squeeze the pus pocket. If the pus pocket is large or spreading, have your healthcare provider drain it.

  • Yeast (Candida) infections

    For yeast infections apply Lotrimin cream or ointment (no prescription needed) 3 times daily. Also, keep the area dry. Do not cover it with a bandage.

  • Prevention

    Discourage any picking or chewing of hangnails (loose pieces of cuticle). Instead, cut these off with nail clippers.

When should I call my child’s healthcare provider?


  • Your child gets a fever.
  • A red streak spreads beyond the cuticle.

Call during office hours if:

  • The infection has not improved after 48 hours on home treatment.
  • The infection is not totally cleared up by 7 days.
  • You have other concerns or questions.
Written by Barton D. Schmitt, MD, author of “My Child Is Sick,” American Academy of Pediatrics Books.
Pediatric Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2013-06-03
Last reviewed: 2014-06-10
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 Barton D. Schmitt, MD. All rights reserved.

Patient Portal

myTuftsMed is our new online patient portal that provides you with access to your medical information in one place. MyTuftsMed can be accessed online or from your mobile device providing a convenient way to manage your health care needs from wherever you are.

With myTuftsMed, you can:

  1. View your health information including your medications, test results, scheduled appointments, medical bills even if you have multiple doctors in different locations.
  2. Make appointments at your convenience, complete pre-visit forms and medical questionnaires and find care or an emergency room.
  3. Connect with a doctor no matter where you are.
  4. Keep track of your children’s and family members’ medical care, view upcoming appointments, book visits and review test results.
  5. Check in on family members who need extra help, all from your private account.


Your privacy is important to us. Learn more about ourwebsite privacy policy. X