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How do I Treat a Cuticle Infection?

By Bethany Keene
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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A cuticle infection, or paronychia, is an infection of the skin surrounding the nail bed, and can be caused by injury or damage to the nail bed. It is often characterized by red, swollen, warm skin surrounding the nail, which may include pus as well. It may also be accompanied by a fever or swollen glands, and if this occurs, it is important to get to the doctor immediately to treat a systemic infection with antibiotics.

A cuticle infection may be a one-time acute occurrence, or it may be a chronic condition affecting more than one nail. A doctor can diagnose a chronic cuticle infection. One common way that an infection of the cuticle occurs is by getting a manicure with unclean tools, or by clipping the cuticles and causing injury. If you go to a salon to get manicures or pedicures, be sure that the tools such as nail clippers and files are sterilized, or just bring your own.

In addition, it is often not necessary to clip the cuticles. Instead, simply soften them in warm water or cuticle oil and gently push them back with an orange stick. The cuticles will not then be cut and left open for viruses and bacteria to enter. If a cut or cuticle infection occurs, immediately wash it with soap and water, and keep the area clean. Remember to never bite the nails or any hangnails; gently clip them off instead.

Application of over-the-counter antibiotic ointment can be effective at treating a minor cuticle infection. In addition, it is often recommended that one soak the cuticle infection in a small bath of warm water and epsom salt for approximately 20 minutes per day in order to draw out the infection. Dry the nails thoroughly afterward, and if the cuticle infection is on the foot, apply clean cotton socks and keep the feet dry.

With this treatment, the infection should begin to clear up within a few days. If it doesn't, or it appears to worsen, it will be necessary to visit a doctor for antibiotics. These antibiotics may be a cream or an oral antibiotic; no matter what the doctor prescribes, it is necessary to complete the whole dose to treat the infection and prevent it from recurring or becoming a chronic condition. In the future, do your best to keep nails clean and dry, and the cuticles free of cuts or injury.

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Discussion Comments

By anon341395 — On Jul 11, 2013

I think I have a cuticle infection after having my new manicure. It hurts and yes, I am very upset about it. What home remedy can I use with this?

By ddljohn — On Feb 23, 2013
@ysmina-- Yea, I think you should see a doctor. Have you tried applying antibiotic cream? You might have to take oral antibiotics.

Fungal infections can happen at cuticles too. My brother had a nasty toenail fungus infection all the way up to his cuticle. He had to use anti-fungal ointment and anti-fungal oral medication.

By burcidi — On Feb 22, 2013

@Hannah77-- That's a great point. Staph infections are horrible and most people don't realize that many of us carry staph bacteria on our skin. The bacteria don't cause an infection unless it finds a way into the bloodstream which it does through cuts and openings on the skin. An opening on the cuticle is a great way to trigger a staph infection.

Staph doesn't get treated so easily either. It often requires two or more courses of antibiotics. It has a tendency to return after treatment, especially in people with weak immune systems.

By ysmina — On Feb 21, 2013

I pulled out a hangnail several days ago. It hurt a lot and bled too! The next day, I noticed that my cuticle is swollen, red and even more painful. It's still the same, there has been no improvement.

Is it an infected cuticle? Do I have to go to the doctor?

By Apunkin — On May 24, 2011

My daughter developed a toenail infection after getting a pedicure at a nail salon. It started as inflammation of the cuticle where it had been trimmed by the pedicurist. It then spread to under the nail bed, where it oozed pus.

We treated it with peroxide soaks and Neosporin, but she was lucky she didn't lose her toenail.

By Hannah77 — On May 23, 2011

Whatever you do, don't ignore a cuticle infection.

When I was in grade school, I was a terrible nail biter and cuticle puller. In third grade I developed a fingernail cuticle infection from all my picking that was made worse by picking at the infection.

By the time my mom found out about it, and got me to the doctor, it had turned into a full blown staph infection that went into my blood stream. I got really sick and missed three weeks of school. All because of a cuticle infection from a picked at fingernail.

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