What is a finger paronychia?
A paronychia is an infection of the nail root of the fingers or toes. It’s a very common infection and is caused by the introduction of bacteria under the cuticle. This is often from people chewing or ripping a hangnail with their teeth, and is also seen in barbers.
In a wound culture, Staphylococcus is the most common bacteria. But, you can have any kind of bacteria (such as anaerobes) from the mouth.
Physical signs of a finger paronychia
Patients usually seek help after a few days of increasing swelling and pain at the base of a nail. The area is sensitive and pressure from the building pus is painful.
If the infection continues, it can extend to the pulp of the finger and cause a felon, or deep tissue abscess. This requires aggressive procedures and can even lead to loss of function or amputation.
How do you treat paronychia?
If the infection is caught early when the nail base is a little swollen and red, you can prescribe frequent warm soaks (at least once every two hours), and a short course of antibiotics (e.g., cephalexin). An established infection and pus collection require incision and drainage.
The tools you need to drain a finger paronychia
The first step when performing the incision and drainage technique is to collect the necessary medication and tools:
- Sterilizing solution
- Ice water
- #11 scalpel
How to drain a finger paronychia
This step-by-step procedure ensures a safe, clean, and (relatively) painless abscess drainage:
- Place the patient’s finger in a cup of ice water until they can’t stand it anymore to numb the finger. This method is fast, painless, and softens the cuticle. Alternatively, you can perform a digital nerve block.
- When the finger is numb, clean the cuticle with the sterilizing solution.
- Stab under the skin parallel to the nail, using your #11 blade.
- You will immediately see pus come out.
Post-procedure care for a finger paronychia
Have your patient soak their finger in warm water every two hours for the next two days. Antibiotics are not needed for minor cases of paronychia, but use your judgment depending on the patient’s risk factors.
Excellent job! You’re well on your way to mastering the treatment of a finger paronychia.
That’s it for now. If you want to improve your understanding of key concepts in medicine, and improve your clinical skills, make sure to register for a free trial account, which will give you access to free videos and downloads. We’ll help you make the right decisions for yourself and your patients.