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Paronychia is a condition commonly known as a cuticle infection that affects the nail bed at the base of a fingernail or toenail. Bacteria, fungi, and a yeast known as Candida can all cause different types of cuticle infections. A bacterial infection of the cuticle can actually occur at the same time as a fungal or Candida infection as well, making the condition slightly harder to treat. Some of the most common causes for these types of infections are such things as biting the fingernails and cuticles, cuticle damage, and the hands or feet being frequently damp or wet.
When a cuticle is damaged, it provides a way for bacteria or fungi to enter into the skin. From there, the invaders cause an infection which can result in redness, swelling, pus and pain. A cuticle that has been bitten or injured is most likely to develop a bacterial cuticle infection from bacteria entering through the injured area. Fungal and Candida infections are the common types in those whose fingers are frequently wet or who have developed an infection after a manicure in a salon. Of those who develop cuticle infections on their toenails, most are fungal and generally believed to be caused by the warm, moist environment inside socks and shoes.
Caring for the cuticle properly is one way to prevent the most common causes of a cuticle infection. For instance, cuticles should not be cut or trimmed during manicures, but instead softened and gently pushed back to minimize the risk of injury. Biting the fingernails and cuticles also should be avoided. People whose hands are frequently wet may have the most difficult time preventing cuticle infections, because a wet, warm environment is a good place for fungi and Candida yeast to flourish. Wet cuticles can lift up and create pockets for bacteria or fungi to get between the cuticle and the nail, causing a fingernail infection.
A bacterial infection of the cuticle is typically an acute condition that comes on quickly. The inflammation, pus and pain can occur suddenly, making it clear that a finger infection is present. Candida yeast and fungal infections may seem to develop slowly, with such symptoms as yellowed nails and cuticles that look detached from the nail. A fungal cuticle infection may not swell, redden or produce pus in the same way a bacterial infection does, but it can be a more long-term condition that is harder to cure.
The treatment for a cuticle infection usually involves a topical cream or other medicine that is applied to the affected area for several days. If the infection has created an abscess or a pocket of pus, a doctor may need to drain this before prescribing other treatment. Severe infections and many chronic fungal infections might also be treated with antibiotics in some cases.